Note: The following is an excerpt from LoraKim Joyner's new book, "Birding for Life," that is still being edited and will be published in 2024.
The crisis is ultimately not precisely about biodiversity. It is about restructuring our relationship as human beings with the natural world, and birds are an excellent place to start.
– Boria Sax in “Avian Illuminations”
Birds are an excellent source for a mindfulness practice, because in most environments they are easily observable. They can show up in the most human packed or degraded environments. When they are present, they are often visible, audible, or both. They grab our attention, which is a step in any focused or mindful practice.
We also focus on birds because they are in trouble. In North America, there are 3 billion fewer birds in 2020 than there were in 1970.* That’s one-quarter of the birds gone. Nineteen bird species have declined by 50 million or more during that period. According to a 2018 report, 1,469 bird species – one-eighth of all bird species – are globally threatened with extinction.* The main threats include habitat destruction and degradation from agricultural expansion and deforestation, invasive species, and human hunting and trapping. These threats also affect mammal, reptile, and amphibian species, and overall ecosystem health. One report in 2019 indicated that 1 million species of all kinds are endangered.* There is a catastrophic decline in biodiversity that endangers a broad swath of individual species and communities of species.
Birds, people, and the planet are in trouble. Bird watching helps us keep this in mind. Moreover, because birding cultivates mindfulness, it helps develop our resilience so the destruction around us won’t be debilitating. Just like as in birding, in mindfulness and resilience, there is no “perfection” to achieve. Let us be kind to ourselves on the days our thoughts feel scattered and despairing.
Birdlife. 2018. State of the World’s Birds: Taking the Pulse of the Planet. https://www.birdlife.org/papers-reports/state-of-the-worlds-birds.
Gyllenhall, A, Gyllenhall, B. 2023. Vanishing by the Billions. In, A Wing and a Prayer. Simon and Schuster, NY, NY.
Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). 2019. UN Report: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’. https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/press-release/natures-dangerous-decline-unprecedented-species-extinction-rates
Rosenberg, K. et al. 2019. Decline of the north American avifauna. Science 366(6461). https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.aaw1313.