In a way, birding has gone hand-in-hand with being environmentally conscious for over a century. The great conservationist George Bird Grinnell founded the early Audubon Society because he saw the need to protect birds from rampant murder at the hands of hunters and the fashion industry. From Audubon supporter Teddy Roosevelt establishing the first wildlife refuge through to Audubon member/recruit Rachel Carson exposing the damage caused by unrestricted use of pesticides in her book Silent Spring, the connection between observing and appreciating birds and respecting our fragile ecology remains strong. As practiced today, birding can help instill environmentally friendly behaviors and practices. Here are some of the values that birding can teach you.

Patience and Curiosity

If you look at it in a certain way, birding goes against the overall thrust and tenor of much of modern society. You can’t exactly pencil in some time for birding before that 1:30 meeting (unless you count playing Angry Birds) or do some birding while you’re typing up your TPS report. You most likely won’t spot the Eurasian Bullfinch on the walk from the Gap to Abercrombie and Fitch at your local mall. If you really want to see the wondrous variety of birds out there, you’ve got to go to them.

Travelling to see a bird can require patience and planning. You’ll need to take time to learn about the area in which a bird lives and, depending on where you live and which species you’d like to see, make preparations to travel there. This means figuring out how you’re going to get there (by car, by boat, etc.), what kind of clothes will be appropriate and so on. You’ll also need to factor in the bird’s migratory pattern.

For example, say that you live in California and would like to see the white-throated sparrow. If you want to see it during the summer, you’ll need to get out your passport; white-throated sparrows spend the summer months in Canada. If you want to see it during the winter, you can head to Texas, Michigan or anywhere along the eastern seaboard. Or, depending on where you live in California, you could possibly just hang up some birdfeeders; white-throated sparrows also migrate to the Pacific coast during the winter.

If you need to travel to reach a bird’s habitat, chances are that they won’t just fly up for you to inspect once you get there. More likely than not, you’ll need to stop, wait and watch for it to appear. If you wander out to search for it, you’ll need to do it slowly and deliberately; you’ll risk overlooking the bird or scaring it away if you just go stomping around. In short, birding makes you get outside your little everyday bubble, slow down, and encounter nature on its own terms.

Attention to Detail

As you do more birding, you’ll grow more appreciative of the little details that make a particular bird unique. You’ll become able to identify a bird by its size, its shape and the color of its feathers. You’ll learn to distinguish between species by the posture that they hold, the numbers in which they tend to flock and the way that they walk, fly, and eat. Your ear will learn to differentiate between birdsongs by their rhythm, pitch and tone. This will all become easier as you observe more birds. As your tally of sightings builds, you’ll come to marvel at the variety of birds that inhabit this world.

Not only will you become appreciative of birds, you can grow to appreciate their specific habitats as well. You can start to consider the combination of climate, trees, vegetation and sources of water that enable a particular bird to inhabit a particular area. Consequently, you can deepen your understanding of how animals (and, by extension, humans) are intimately and unavoidably connected to nature.

Passion for Conservation and Community

After you observe a number of birds and the various regions that they inhabit, you can grow to appreciate how fragile a balance of elements makes that habitation possible. From there, you can start to think about the necessity to protect the areas where birds and other animals live from encroachments (hunting, urbanization, etc.). As your awareness increases, you can begin to take steps to preserve these areas.

These steps don’t necessarily need to be big or dramatic at first. They can be as simple as not leaving any litter behind and not taking anything away from a bird’s nesting area. Excellent first steps would also include keeping a reasonable distance from that nesting area and, with very few exceptions, not touching the birds.

This consideration can extend not just to birds but to your fellow birders. If you spot a rare bird, let others know (don’t broadcast it too much, however: too many people or less conscientious types can scare the bird away). If someone’s trying to look at a bird, stay out of the way. Let somebody borrow your binoculars if his aren’t working. Let somebody look at your field guide if she doesn’t have one. Travelling with a small group of birders can reduce transportation costs and create less pollution. Meeting and interacting with others during your travels can make your birding experiences even richer and more fulfilling.

William Blake wrote about seeing the world in a grain of sand and heaven in a flower. Birding can do something similar for people: it can help people recognize and value the interconnectedness of everything we encounter.