Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Watching and Feeding Birds Has Therapeutic Benefits
March 21, 2020
By Steve Grinley
There was an article in an issue of Birding magazine more than a decade ago that addressed the therapeutic benefits of watching and feeding birds. It focused on the residents of assisted living homes, but given today’s Coronavirus challenges, many of the benefits apply for all of us as we, a society, are asked to isolate ourselves and practice “social distancing,” It seems appropriate that I share this with you again during these trying times:
In a survey of administrators of assisted living and nursing home institutions, all agreed that that their residents enjoyed watching the birds and that it had a positive effect on their residents’ morale. Most all agreed that feeding birds provided a positive therapeutic effect. All of the administrators also agreed that the bird feeding programs were good for their staff as well. Many wrote strong testimonials of the positive impact that feeding birds had at their institution.
Those that feed the birds feel they have a purpose in life that provides them self-esteem. Many were caretakers of their families all of their lives, and that void can be filled by caring for the birds. It gives residents, especially those with dementia or Alzheimer’s, a sense of pleasure to care for something. Those who have family visitors might welcome a bird feeder as a gift and birds can provide a topic of conversation during visits.
Feeding and watching birds gives housebound residents a connection with the outside world and reduces isolation and depression. Sharing the birds also provides a mutual topic on which residents can converse with each other. They talk about which birds come to their window and some keep lists to gloat about with others.
Feeding and watching birds can provide physical therapy. Cleaning and filling bird feeders provides exercise for residents that may lack motivation to exercise on their own. It also helps develop motor skills. Even the simple motion of breaking bread into small pieces for the birds helps provide exercise for stiff fingers or hands.
Birds provide sensory stimulation, both visual and audio. Watching birds may even provide better eye movement and increased visual field for some, such as stroke victims. Feeders outside their window may help stimulate visual mobility in an affected eye. Likewise, birds’ songs help stimulate auditory senses.
At some nursing homes, residents are encouraged to sit outside and sing or whistle with the birds. It’s an activity that provides vocal exercise and helps to involve them with nature. Some assisted living homes conduct bird walks around the grounds that has great therapeutic value for those who partake.
Birds also provide a timetable or time orientation for residents. Feeding or watching birds at a certain time each day helps orient time in relation to the day. Longer time orientation is possible through the seasonality of birds. Residents know that robins arrive in the spring and leave in the fall. Some residents compete to see the first robin, catbird or redwing. The color change in goldfinches signifies seasonal changes for them as well. Orioles, hummingbirds or rose-breasted grosbeaks provide summer entertainment while juncos, tree sparrows and pine siskins provide winter pleasure.
Chances are that you have an older family member or friend in assisted living or living at home. Or perhaps you know a person of any age who may alone, isolated, or depressed during this unprecedented crisis around us. Providing a bird feeder for them to watch and maintain can add joy to their life. Remember that birds are not just entertainment for them, but birds also provide many therapeutic benefits.
Rachel Carson said “There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of birds…There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter.”
Indeed. During these challenging times, feeding and watching the birds has therapeutic benefit for all of us.