Ornithotherapy: The therapeutic power of birdwatching

This Sunset Kayaking video is an example of Ornitherapy:

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A recent European study entitled Biological Diversity Evokes Happiness determined that a ten percent increase in bird diversity increases life satisfaction as much as a comparable increase in income. So people are happier if they see more birds? I would think so. Generally, it is beneficial for us to experience more nature in our ever-disconnected-from-nature world. This has led to interesting solutions like nature therapy, forest therapy or “forest bathing” the idea that communing with the wild (or at least wilder) world “allows for ecstatic joy and pleasure, the resolution of grief, and the fulness of grace and mercy.” (Hollyhock talks.)

kid bird watching

 “Ornithotherapy” is the idea that watching birds reduces stress and helps to reduce obesity, disease, and anxiety. By getting outside and focusing on birds you forget, mostly, your troubles and instead think about what the birds are doing. No question that birdwatching helps you to focus your thoughts elsewhere, but so do music practice, doing math problems, flying a plane, driving in traffic, and a whole plethora of other activities that require you to focus.

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Books, popular articles, and peer-reviewed manuscripts abound that expound on the connection between good mental, physical, and emotional health and being in nature. In his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, author Richard Louv details the benefits of a society connected to the natural world, including reduced stress, anxiety, obesity, and disease for both children and adults alike. An article on ornitherapy published in the British Medical Journal in 1979 read, “neither the sentimentalist nor the ethologist would deny that the observation of birds has a real effect on their own emotions. This emotional influence can be turned — to good effect.”

Why Ornitherapy Works

Many reasons account for why birdwatching, in particular, is so uplifting to the spirit and beneficial to the mind. Birding, by its very nature, teaches us patience and gently coaxes us into calm. Loud noises and quick movements will frighten most birds away. Thus, observing birds in the wild begs for stillness and silence — skills that, once learned, can help us in other trying situations. Searching for birds also demands our full attention. A quick look at our phone or a thought that sidetracks us might mean a missed opportunity to spot a bird before it takes flight.

Though there is no one right way to practice ornitherapy — what works for one person might not work for another — it can be fun and rewarding to try birding in a new way. And it just might do us good.

bird book