Soothing souls in a pandemic: bird watching takes off

By: Lynn Desjardins
The beginning of the pandemic struck fear into the hearts of many Canadians, but it also made them notice birdsong near home. It could be that the sudden decrease in traffic and noise increased the bird population but more likely that people were at home and had more time to hear and contemplate birds.
The net result has been significantly increased sales and visits for a shop in Montreal which specialises in all the paraphernalia one needs to observe birds.

Hooked on birds, Goulet led ‘insane birding tours’

As a youngster, owner Alain Goulet was coming home from school one day when he was struck by a most beautiful sound that turned out to come from a bird in a nearby tree. Fascinated, he went home, did some research and identified the bird as a bobolink. He became hooked on birds, studied wildlife biology and, at the University of Guelph in Ontario, took fellow students on what his wife calls “insane birding tours early on Saturday mornings.” That is where the two met and fell in love.

Pandemic encourages new birders, and upgrades for regulars

Their store is called Nature Expert and Goulet says that after the pandemic started he sold more bird feeders both online and in person. He says more people came into the store very excited about birds and reporting the many kinds they had spotted. He sold books to help them identify birds and binoculars for spotting them.
In addition, his regular customers were not able to travel and were saving money. In many cases, they used that money to buy better equipment, often upgrading their binoculars and spotting scopes, which are like telescopes and provide magnificent detail of birds that may be very far away. Regulars may spend $3,000 to $4,000 on a better piece of optical equipment.

A diversity of birds found to enhance life-satisfaction

Scientists who published a recent study found that “bird species richness is positively associated with life-satisfaction across Europe. We found a relatively strong relationship, indicating that the effect of bird species richness on life-satisfaction may be of similar magnitude to that of income.” These findings from the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research are anecdotally corroborated by Goulet’s wife. Dara Thompson Goulet said that at the beginning of the pandemic people’s routines were drastically disrupted leaving many feeling anxious. She says she was sitting at her table one day observing birds at her back yard feeders and was overcome with a real sense of security and comfort. At a time when people were so restricted, she found “birds opened up our world.”
She knows more people in her neighborhood are noticing birds and says parents looking for something to do with their children have become interested. Her husband says people coming into the shop are very calm and at peace. And he says new birders are “really gung-ho.” He says they they are learning a lot and want to learn more.