BUTTERFLY MEDICINE / Things with Wings Improve Wellbeing
By Tara O’Grady
Today I saw a bird I’ve never seen before – a Yellow Shafted Flicker. This gorgeously fashionable woodpecker joined the buffet I created for birds on my patio. It wore a red collar at the nape of its neck, a slate-grey crown, a peach throat accentuating a black mustache and burnt sienna eyebrows, and a black half moon-shaped breast above a perfectly polka-dotted belly. The undersurface of its wing and tail feathers was painted sunflower yellow, the color of happiness.
When I was living in New York City, my knowledge of the avian world had been limited to pigeons. Now in the Hudson Valley, I am exposed to hundreds of species on a daily basis. This new hobby of bird watching is the result of being unemployed during a global pandemic. It is an unusual privilege due to extraordinary circumstances. I never understood bird watchers before the pandemic. I thought they were a boring bunch of nature loving nerds. How wrong I was, how limited in my thinking!
When I see a bird I’ve never seen before, I become as excited as a child discovering the natural world. Suddenly I’m an explorer, an ornithologist, and anything seems possible. Magic is just around the corner, if my attention lends itself to the landscape or the riverside.
Recent studies have found that birds increase our levels of happiness and mental well being, both seeing and hearing birds. When I had Covid in the spring of 2020, I couldn’t go beyond my backyard, so I set up a chair in the driveway and sat in the sun feeling caged. But then an orange-breasted oriole landed on my garage. I had never seen one of those birds before either. It brought me such joy when there was such misery surrounding me as ambulances overpowered the sound of bird songs.
Economists are even claiming that the sale of bird seed and feeders have increased during the pandemic. I’ve been refilling mine all winter awaiting the arrival of my feathered friends. To counteract the loneliness of social distancing, I turn my attention to the feeder where I can see a variety of colorful creatures, including purple finches, red-bellied woodpeckers, blue jays, grey tufted titmice, eastern bluebirds, bright red cardinals, chestnut brown wrens, white-throated sparrows, taupe colored doves, and red-breasted nuthatches.
Each visitor makes my heart dance. And just when I think the thrill is gone, I look up in the sky and see red-tailed hawks, ravens, seagulls, Canadian geese, and even bald eagles. One night, I held my breath as I heard a barred owl with its famous call, ‘Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all?” I tripped over an indoor plant scrambling to the open window hungry for the sound of bliss.
We can’t control everything that’s happening around us right now as our own wings have been temporarily clipped. But taking a moment to observe birds can give us a much needed mental lift.