I went for a walk in my local park the other day, and took out my earbuds (something I, and most people my age, rarely do when not accompanied by others). Immediately, I noticed how eerily quiet it was. Gone were the various bird calls that I had tried to identify with my newfound passion for birds and birding this past summer. Instead, I was met with occasional squirrel chatter and the sounds of children on the playground.
It took me a couple of seconds to realize that we had reached the end of fall bird migration season, the time of the year when approximately half of the world’s birds fly south in search of food, water, shelter, and in some cases to escape the extreme conditions that can come with winter. Although many aspects of bird migration are still not fully understood, it is widely believed that they know to start relocating when the days start to get shorter.
I was explaining the phenomenon of migration and how birds know to start their often long and treacherous journey to a group of second graders just a couple of days after we set our clocks back an hour. It was then that I finally made a connection between the frustration I had been expressing to friends about the days becoming shorter (especially when one doesn’t want to wake up at 5am to get some sunlight) and birds’ behavior in the winter.
Even though it gets dark earlier in the day in winter every single year, I still find myself shocked when it starts to get dark at 5pm in November. Every year, I have the same conversations, complaining about the lack of sunlight after work days and the impact it has on mental health. However, it seems that many people are finally starting to take a hint from birds and start changing their behaviors in the winter to make the best of the darkest and coldest months of the year.
While some of us are able to migrate to warmer places in the South, like the birds, for the winter–such as many east coast grandparents wintering in Florida for the winter–not all of us have that luxury. For those of us who are stuck in place for winter, what can we do to make it more bearable?
One recent trend that has been going around social media is “hygge.” This term refers to “a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being,” and is widespread throughout Scandinavian culture, originating in Denmark. This idea of adapting your behavior in the winter and slowing down seems to go against the current worldwide spread of hustling all the time and keeping a rigid routine, despite the weather, temperature, or number of daylight hours; but it completely aligns with the natural world.
Although migrating birds are the first natural phenomenon of response to seasonal change that comes to my mind, those who don’t work in the world of birds may think of others first. For example, many animals hibernate in the winter–slowing down their heart rates and essentially sleeping the entire season away. Many trees lose their leaves and seem to be almost dead before coming back to life in the spring.
While humans may not be able to take it to this extreme, we can take this advice from nature and slow our pace for the winter months. Maybe this means adjusting our schedules so that we are awake earlier in the morning and go to sleep earlier to allow for more daylight hours outside of the work day. Maybe this means taking our meetings as walking meetings so that we can spend more time outside in the sunlight. Or maybe, taking a note from the concept of hygge, it means leaning into colder months by warming our homes with candles, warm drinks, fires in the fireplace, and fuzzy blankets.
Whatever taking cues from the natural world means to you this winter season, I would suggest at least taking a gander at it–the birds have certainly been around a lot longer than we have, and I think we could stand to learn a thing or two from them.
Altman, A. (2016, December 18). The Year of Hygge, the Danish Obsession with Getting Cozy. The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-year-of-hygge-the-danish-obsession-with-getting-cozy
Runwall, P. (2021, May 5). Bird migration is one of nature’s great wonders. Here’s how they do it. National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/bird-migration-one-of-natures-wonders-heres-how-they-do-it
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