Social Distanced Birding

Aiken Birders_ClearSpringRanch-COS-CO_LAH_0549

The medical experts are telling us to keep our social distance. No hugs. No handshakes. No large gatherings. Events are cancelled. In many places, schools, churches, and other large venues are closed. We’re stuck at home staring at the TV—or are we? We may need to keep our distance from other people, but that doesn’t mean we can’t go out. We just have to choose places where we’re not in a crowd.

Instead of sitting at home, consider giving nature a visit; think hiking trails, open fields, uncrowded lake shores and beaches. You’re not going to catch a virus from a pine tree or from walking the paths at the local nature center. In fact, with everything else off the calendar, this is the ideal time to go birding.

Birding can be done in small groups, and having extra sets of eyes typically leads to a longer trip list. But large groups (say, more than a dozen or so) don’t work so well. Too many people will scare away the birds, and those at the end of the line miss out. Plus, they can’t see where the leader is pointing, or hear what bird they’re supposed to be seeing.

With a few easy precautions, birding fits perfectly into an age of CORVID-19 quarantines. Here are a few suggestions I came up with—you may add more to this list.

  • Keep the group small. The fewer the people who gather, the less likely someone will be incubating the virus.
  • Spread out. As I looked through my photos of people birding, I noticed that we tend to crowd together in a clump—not just when looking at a particular bird, which may only be seen from one angle, but even when walking along the trail. The outdoors is rather large. Grab some elbow room!

Hawk Trip-ElPasoCo-CO_LAH_6728

  • Bring your lunch. This allows you to avoid going out to eat, a social activity, with the added bonus that you’ll have more time to look for birds. Find a nice picnic spot, spread out, and eat food you’ve prepared yourself.


  • If you carpool, ask the drivers to clean inside the car with disinfectant ahead of the trip. Pay special attention to seat belts, door handles (inside and out), window controls, and other places passengers are likely to touch. And obviously, don’t cram too many people into one car. We want to breathe our own air, please.
  • Don’t share scopes (or binoculars or field guides or anything else). Typically, when visiting a large body of water, or looking for raptors perched on faraway telephone poles, a few people bring scopes and everyone else takes turns looking through them. We may want to skip this practice for a while, as the virus can survive on a metal surface for longer than it takes you to say, “What a beautiful hawk!”

Photographers with Sandhill Cranes_MonteVistaNWR-CO_20100321_LAH_0740.nef

  • We’ve all been amply reminded to wash our hands, but many birding destinations lack sinks with soap and running water. Hand sanitizer isn’t quite as effective, but it’s far better than nothing. Bring a lot and use it often.
  • Birder_LakePuebloSP_LAH_4794If you’re at high risk for complications, you may want to consider birding on your own, or with a companion you’re already close to. It’s sad to miss out on the camaraderie, but better safe than sorry.

It’s easy to be worried about both the virus and the broader issues it’s creating—various shortages, an unstable economy, and the overwhelming media focus I, at least, am quickly tiring of. Simply getting outside will take our minds off our concerns and bring a smile to our faces.

Note: AFTER I queued this (last Friday) to appear today, I saw Audubon’s article on the same topic. You may enjoy reading it as well: Birding Is the Perfect Activity While Practicing Social Distancing

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