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Relapse Prevention Tip: Embrace the Health Benefits of Bird Watching

A young man with binoculars has a smile on his face as he spots something in a forest.
Think bird watching is just for retired folks? It can be one of the most physically—and intellectually—demanding hobbies there is.


Think of bird-watching as an excuse.

It’s an excuse to spend a day in the great outdoors. To get together with a few good friends. To explore a new corner of the world. To hike a few miles up a mountain trail.

Along the way, you may find out what so many others already know: That birding creates a challenging—and energizing—mental puzzle. Before long, you’ll know that, if you see a prairie dog, it’s time to start looking for a burrowing owl. As you wander along a streambed, you’ll be listening for the call of the western tanager.

To get started, all you’ll really need is a pair of binoculars and a field guide. There are a lot of good ones out there, but we like the “Field Guide to Birds of North America” by Kenn Kaufman. (Kaufman is also the author of “Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder” which tells the story of his quest, at the age of 16, to hit the road and see every bird he could.)

Birds to Look for in Colorado

Some 400 species of birds have been found in Colorado. Here are a half dozen to keep an eye out for. For a complete list, visit the Colorado Birding Trail.

  • The northern goshawk is a short-winged hawk found in lowland pine forests.
  • The Gunnison sage grouse is one of the rarest birds in North America, but it can be found in southwest Colorado in the Gunnison River basin.
  • The mountain bluebird is a startling shade of bright blue. Find it in meadows or high prairies in spring, summer and fall.
  • The sandhill crane is one of the state’s most majestic birds. Look for it in summer in Steamboat Lake State Park in Clark, Colorado.
  • The burrowing owl can be found in prairie dog colonies across the state. Look for this yellow-eyed bird perched on fence posts.
  • The calliope hummingbird weighs about a tenth of an ounce. Find it feeding on flowers in mountain meadows.

Birding Close to Denver

Barr Lake, located about 45 minutes south of Denver in Brighton, Colorado, is known as one of the best spots in the state for birding. More than 350 species have been found there, including blue herons, pelicans and a pair of bald eagles. The park is also home to the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, which offers educational programs.

Birding is just one of many relapse prevention activities (a fancy rehab phrase for fun) you can do at Barr Lake. There is an 8.8-mile trail for biking and hiking that follows the perimeter of the lake, as well as boating and even an archery range. Bring your new friends with you and you can engage in what your counselor would call relapse prevention group therapy activities.

That may have been a bad joke, but we’re in this world of recovery together and sometimes you have to laugh at yourself—and your counselors.

Give birding a try. At the very least, it’ll be a relaxing day in nature. But you might find that it develops into a passion that you don’t need any excuses to pursue.

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