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In the Company of Birds: Mental Wellness at the Feeder 

A Downy Woodpecker clings to a suet feeder, its black and white plumage standing out against the lush green backdrop, showcasing the bird’s natural feeding behavior and the importance of providing sustenance for wildlife.
Inquisitive Woodpecker Feasting on Suet - A Glimpse into Avian Dining Habits. Photo by Payton Pan

Recently, I've been contemplating the profound impact of birdwatching on my mental health and overall well-being. Each morning, I find myself in front of the glass doors of my porch, attempting to engage in guided meditation. However, more often than not, my mind feels turbulent, turning the meditation into more of a struggle than the calm experience I seek.

Interestingly, a shift occurs when I open my eyes and focus on observing the birds at my feeder. In that moment, my mind begins to settle, and I become fully immersed in the present with no internal resistance. The presence of the Cardinal and House Finch brings me immense joy, transforming the experience into a source of tranquility and mindfulness.

I've come to realize that birdwatching might be MY form of meditation, perhaps even a more profound one. With my eyes open, I actively foster relationships with the small creatures on my porch, silently expressing love and gratitude. This leads me to ponder about their perception of me.

A hummingbird with iridescent feathers flutters its wings as it prepares to feed from a red backyard nectar feeder against a clear blue sky, illustrating the beauty of wildlife in suburban settings.
Graceful Hummingbird Approaching a Backyard Feeder - A Moment of Natural Splendor. Photo by Payton Pan

Meanwhile, miles away, my father bravely contends with the relentless progression of dementia. Interestingly, the birds remain a constant presence for him, providing solace for both of us in distinct yet remarkably similar ways. In a sense, they serve as a bridge, keeping us connected amidst life's challenges. Indeed, they become a bridge that connects us even when memories are no longer a reliable bond. In the delicate threads of birdwatching, we find shared solace that transcends the limitations of fading recollections, weaving a connection that endures despite the challenges of dementia.

As a therapist, I contemplate how to inspire my clients to embrace the mental health benefits offered by the presence of these small feathered creatures. It might captivate their interest to learn that regions with reduced bird diversity are associated with higher rates of mental health hospital admissions, as indicated by a study conducted at Carleton University in Canada. Clients may also find it intriguing that scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development have demonstrated that birdsong has the ability to alleviate anxiety and reduce irrational thoughts.

A flock of starlings perches on and around a bird feeder during a gentle snowfall, symbolizing peace and mental clarity, an apt representation for the therapeutic benefits of birdwatching as explored in the blog.
Embracing Serenity: Starlings Seek Refuge in a Snowy Sanctuary at a Backyard Feeder. Photo by Payton Pan

Alternatively, I might opt for a bit of self-disclosure, expressing that, on a personal level, the daily presence of birds serves as a vital source of sanity for me. I could simply recommend that they explore this timeless and readily available remedy as their weekly therapeutic assignment. Who knows, they might develop an affection for a petite bird adorned with a rich reddish-brown hue on its upper parts, featuring a distinctive white eyebrow stripe above its eye and boasting one of the most delightful and cheerful songs. Yes, I mean you Caroline Wren – it’s easy to fall for you!

About the Author

Portrait of Dr. Heidi Schreiber-Pan, esteemed psychologist and author, embodying the serenity and insight of her nature-informed therapeutic approach.
Dr. Heidi Schreiber-Pan: Pioneering the Path to Well-being through Nature

Dr. Heidi Schreiber-Pan is a renowned expert in Nature-Informed Therapy, with over two decades of pioneering work in integrating ecological principles into psychological practice. Her academic rigor, exemplified by a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology and a Master's in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, underpins her innovative BioPsychoSocial-Spiritual Model of Well-being. Author of the acclaimed book "Taming the Anxious Mid: A Guidebook to Relieve Stress & Anxiety" and "The Outside Within: Stories of nature's role in psychological well-being". Dr. Schreiber-Pan is also the founder of the Nature Informed Therapy Center. An impassioned educator and nature therapist, her work not only advances mental health but also underscores the vital role of environmental stewardship in public well-being.

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I have found that Birds are also a salve for excess machismo. If I have said it once, I have said it a million times- in the SUD world it is a quantum leap to go from Jack Daniels and Cocaine on the weekends to Green Tea and Meditation. Sitting still with a pair of binoculars and a taste of childlike wonder watching and listening to the Birds, helps some kickstart this much needed journey. Love this Heidi!



I absolutely love this article bc I’ve found the same- birding along with nature photography has become my meditation. I’ve told friends and family- even my law enforcement colleagues- that there is something healing in focusing on the lives of birds, and just being out looking for the magic in nature. PS- I’m also a therapist who works for a LE agency & does some side work too! Thank you for this validation! 🥰 🦅 🐦

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