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I have never been any good at remembering the names of birds. I still get a coot confused with a moorhen – one of them has a white beak, I know, but which? – and I have trouble telling my ravens from my rooks. But that doesn’t make birdwatching any less enjoyable for me; in fact, it means that when I hear the sound of a birdcall I am not worried about getting a glimpse of the singer, as I can simply stand and appreciate its beauty.
In Bird Therapy, Joe Harkness comments that he had previously underestimated the power of birdsong, and until recently, when the areas around my home have been quiet enough to allow the birds’ calls to ring through, I didn’t appreciate them enough either. Indeed, a study in 2017 revealed that watching birds in our gardens and neighbourhoods makes us feel happier and more relaxed, and can even ease depression, anxiety and stress.
Joe cites further research into the mental health benefits of observing nature in his book, alongside his own emotive, often witty, anecdotes.
“[Birdwatching] is a multi-faceted and multi-sensory experience that takes me away from any external worries,” he writes in Bird Therapy. “I believe that the more I’ve taken notice of and absorbed the natural world around me, the more self-aware I’ve become… This has helped me also to recognise when I’m stressed or my mood is low.”
Reading Bird Therapy is like gaining a new friend, one who trusts you with their deepest secrets and in return offers you advice and reassurance that no matter what difficulty you find yourself in, there is support and solace to be found in nature. I hope you’ll join me in reading it. – Amy Barrett, editorial assistant
If you’re interested in finding out more about mental health, why not listen to our podcast episode with neuropsychiatrist Anthony David: