Aside from being a visually peculiar word, what the heck is Ornitherapy? Did I misspell aromatherapy? Is it missing an ‘h’ at the beginning, and actually an entirely different word? Is it even a real word at all?!
Before we spiral into a black whole of questions, let me explain. Ornitherapy is the mindful observation of birds benefitting our minds, bodies, and soul. The prefix Orni- means birds, like in ornithology. And then there’s -therapy. I’m going to assume that part is self explanatory…
So when we put them together, we essentially have a word that translates to bird therapy. Watching birds and being in nature is therapeutic for us on many different levels. It’s much cheaper than an overpriced shrink and uncomfortable leather couch*, trust me!
Research shows that watching birds doesn’t just feel good; it can tangibly impact our mental and physical wellbeing. A study done by the University of Exeter, British Trust for Ornithology, and University of Queensland examined 270 participants of different ages, ethnicities, and incomes to see how they reacted after spending time outdoors watching birds. In fact, those who saw less birds and spent less time outside were more likely to report higher levels of stress and anxiety, while the group that spent more time outside and saw more birds were less likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and stress.
Before you panic about having minimal bird knowledge, you don’t have to identify a bird to benefit from Ornitherapy! The study mentioned that “the ability of most people to identify different species is low, suggesting that for most people it is interacting with birds, not just specific birds, that provides well-being.” The act of just getting outside, being in nature, and watching a bird, even if you don’t know what it is, is enough to kick start the incredible benefits of Ornitherapy.
If we’re being completely honest, I actually spent a lot of time running away from the world of birds, mainly because my dad was involved so I naturally thought it was ‘uncool.’ Over time, I realized just how important birds are to my life. Now, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Birds have always been there for me, even when they were ‘uncool’ and I pretended not to notice them fly by. I’ve traveled to 26 countries, lived in the US, Thailand, and England, and have been stuck in a national lockdown since January. Lockdown is stressful and tough on multiple levels. But just a few steps outside my door, I can hear the gulls calling, see swallows swooping and swans on the river (even if they are nasty little suckers who hiss at me).
Watching, listening, and observing takes me out of my head and back into the present moment. Even when it feels like so much is changing, birds are an anchor in my life. Birds inhabit every continent on the planet, and that’s exactly why they are perfect for practicing Ornitherapy. They are with me everywhere I go: the perfect reminder to be present, aware, and appreciative.
Make It YOUR Ornitherapy
You don’t need to live in the countryside or a forest to practice Ornitherapy. I live in the middle of Bristol, an English city boasting a population of half a million people. The possibilities of seeing birds are endless, if you know where to look.
Many cities have various greenscapes such as local parks and sports fields. Go for a walk and just observe: sights, sound, and even smells. It’s not about being able to ‘label’ what you’re seeing, or even being able to identify the type of bird. Half of the fun is the learning! What patterns can you see on the feathers? How does it move? If you can’t see any birds, why do you think that is?
Now more than ever, our connection to birds and nature is vital. For me, Ornitherapy is a way to ground myself in the present moment and appreciate the beauty of nature. It makes me step away from our world of pixelated screens and helps get back to my best possible self, and the planet we call home. To me, practicing Ornitherapy feels like rediscovering little aspects of life all over again. What do you think Ornitherapy can do for you?
Still want to know more? Have an experience you want to share? Leave a comment below 🙂
*While Ornitherapy is a great practice for your mental and physical health, therapists are still highly valuable sources of knowledge and help for many people, including myself 🙂