Bird-Friendly Communities

Birds Are My Key to Happiness

Virginia Rose, founder of Birdability, tells the story of how birds transformed her life.

Birds Are My Key to Happiness is authored by Virginia Rose, founder of Birdability.

I did not realize I was living apart from nature and had been for years. I was paralyzed in a horseback-riding accident 30 years earlier at the age of 14 and had used a manual wheelchair ever since. Nature seemed unavailable to me, and I think I forgot about it.

Until birds! Until one amazing springtime morning in an aromatic East Texas forest where I sat alone, spellbound by birdsong. The ethereal songs of the Wood Thrush, the Yellow-throated Warbler, the Hooded Warbler, and the high sewing-machine song of Pine Warbler. I realized I was meeting my best self, right then and there on that bridge, and I was happier than I'd ever been. I often think the birds that morning announced that revelation.

I called my mom and asked her, “Mom, why didn't you tell me I was a nerd? My life would have been so much easier!”

You see, birds delivered a community of like-minded people, people who met regularly inside and outside to learn about birds. People who helped, listened, taught, and laughed. Curious people, interesting people, joyful people. People who hoisted me and the wheelchair up and down stairs, in and out of cars, trucks, trains, boats, buses, and golf carts. People who became best friends.

Birds delivered what I consider a key for happiness, lifelong learning. Learning about habitat, distribution, songs, field marks, and behavior to name a few, and then learning it all over again as seasons or contexts changed. Learning about sparrows and shorebirds again and again with people who knew I wasn’t studying and loved me anyway!

Birds delivered beautiful new birding sites far and near, county, city, state, and national parks I'd never seen. New trails in different places, the thrill that travel brings. The pelagic trip in San Diego, the famous McGee Marsh in Ohio, the fabulous Cape May, New Jersey. The tropical beauty of the Rio Grande Valley, the high desert beauty of Southeastern Arizona, the icy experience of the Rosy Finch in New Mexico, and most recently, the exquisite forest beauty on the Olympic peninsula.

Birds delivered physical and psychological challenges to be sure, but challenges led to accomplishment. I didn't know what I could do outside, on trails, on trips in new places with new people or alone. But I learned just what I was made of! By doing it! Empowerment with a capital E! Birds gave me that.

Spending an hour enchanted by four Lincoln Sparrows in the flattened brown winter grass.

Spotting the first winter orange-crown warbler’s shadow through my morning bedroom shade.

Witnessing twenty cedar waxwings descending en masse onto my birdbath, ringing it in their exotic buffy browns, yellows, reds, and elegant black eyelines.

Seeing--finally-- the white wagtail miraculously materializing on an Austin graveled bank. I stared at it until my eyes hurt as the dusk slowly took it away again.

Hearing the loud, nasal "peent-ing" noises of American Woodcock, which varied in number from 10 to 15 to 30 prior to his incredible rocket-like launch into the darkening sky. The "twittering sounds of air rushing through his wingtips" is otherworldly. His silhouette looked much like a very large bumblebee zooming off into space.

Watching three Red-tailed Hawks positioned above us, flying but not flying, side by side, strangely still, facing an airstream like kites vying for space, tied without strings to earthly hands. Or are they like surfers, somehow still in the current, waiting for a wave. Or are they like trout in a stream, seemingly still sharing an oncoming current.

Finally, as you can tell, birds gave me an abundance of joy. They gave me my best life.

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