Here's a way to enjoy the birds while relieving stress and improving your wellness - Holly Merker

When you think of birding, what comes to mind? Running around chasing birds? Anxiously trying to count them before they fly away? Well, there are many other ways to enjoy birding that relieve stress and improve your mood, one of which is known as "Ornitherapy."

February 2023


Because I believe in the value that Ornitherapy holds, especially for young birders, I’m offering a discount to anyone who reads this (young or old) of 40% off the retail price of $25 – but you need to email me directly at and mention “Beary Birding Discount” when you order!

What is Ornitherapy? 

The word Ornitherapy can hold many meanings to different people and is not my word or that of my coauthors of the book Ornitherapy. I could find the word first used in print in the British Journal of Medicine in 1979 by Dr. A.F. Cox. While Dr. Cox aptly titled the therapeutic value of watching birds, the name itself can have many interpretations based on individual styles and preferences. 

We know through science-based research that spending time connecting to the natural world helps lower cortisol levels (a stress hormone), blood pressure and anxiety, alleviate symptoms of depression, and improve our cognitive function. 

Studies also show that when we use nature to redirect our attention by intentionally paying attention to birds and nature, the practice holds restorative benefits to our brain function (memory, ability to focus and retain information) and boosts feelings of well-being. Because birds are natural gateways into deeper experiences with nature, displaying charisma in their color patterns, shapes, behaviors, flight, and full concert of vocalizations, there are benefits beyond the enjoyment. And this is Ornitherapy. 


How can a young birder practice it?

In an era when young birders are pressured with so many aspects of life, allowing birds to be companions in helping offset stress and anxiety, and promote overall wellness is not only easy but fun. Can you relate to a time when observing birds (by sight or ear) made you feel better, or improved your mood? If so, then you were practicing Ornitherapy. 

I encourage all birders to set aside time to be intentional in using bird observation as part of personal wellness. This is a bit different than traditional birding, where we collect data for eBird, etc., because the intention in our birding is a bit different. With the practice of Ornitherapy or Mindful Birding (see, the focus here is not on making identifications or censusing numbers of birds; instead, the focus shifts towards slowing down, engaging all the senses, and just relaxing. Let nature just happen around you. Don’t worry about not seeing enough species or getting good enough looks. The goal is to slow down and not be judgmental of how we observe or what we do or don’t observe. When we set off with this intention, finding a “sit spot” or practicing mindful walking, it’s amazing how much closer the birds come to us, and how much less we disturb them! This is why backyards or even windows looking at feeders can be some of the best places to practice ornitherapy- because you don’t need to go far at all!

Here’s a challenge for all young birders for 2023: See if you can set aside 23 minutes a day to practice Ornitherapy in 2023! Just like Phys-ed classes: strive toward physical fitness, observing birds can be part of your wellness plan- and provide incredible benefits to your mind and body. 

What is your book about?

The book Ornitherapy: For Your Mind, Body, and Soul aims to guide readers into deeper connections with birds to harness the wellness benefits, through focused explorations, a couple of explorations in meditations or mindfulness, and an interactive journaling section where readers can take authorship of the book by adding in their own observations, sketches, or whatever. 

The book was designed to be used from a window or transported along daily travels. The 216-page hardcover book features stunning imagery from ID Guide author Richard Crossley, along with the design and layout, and written meditations by his daughter, Sophie Crossley (a young birder herself). We are thrilled that in 2022, the book won a Bronze Medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards and is already in its second printing.