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 “forest therapy and 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.) And we even have people trained (so they say) to guide us on forest therapy walks and even pursue degrees in ecotheology.
“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.
I’m not suggesting you take up truck driving to relax; I’m just pointing out that ornithotherapy is just another name for bird watching to calm our anxieties. Do we really need a name for it and start certifying people, as we do for “Forest Therapy?” The Forest Therapy Hub offers online training to become a certified Forest Bathing Guide. A brief look at their website says you can complete a 96 hour/12 week course by studying online for 20-30 minutes a day. (Do the math, it doesn’t compute.) A 3-day in person immersive training in nature is optional. But you get a certificate.
I think that the term ornithotherapy was invented by the authors of a book by that title, but rather than pretending that ornithotherapy is some new concept, take the time to really focus on a bird next time you see one. Although I find the book What the Robin Knows pretty simplistic, its premise is appealing: find a sit spot and concentrate on the bird activity around you. Note that its behavior is what it needs to do to survive and that the bird itself is only one piece of a vast interconnected ecological world that we are both a part of and apart from. Each species has its own niche – its specific way of doing things that allow it to survive and reproduce. Try to determine what that is.
I really focused on doing that yesterday and not only did I spot an unusual migrant (Nashville Warbler) hear bird songs much more clearly than I usually do, but I found myself more aware of leaves falling, trees turning brown much too early, bees foraging on the lavender, and a surprising lot of butterflies. If ornithotherapy or whatever you call it gets more people outside watching birds and noticing all the other offerings that nature serves up, then that’s great, call it what you will.