Have you gotten your daily dose of Ornitherapy today?

Mounting research shows that when we step outside and into nature, positive chemical responses are activated within us. Cortisol, the hormone that flips into overdrive when we are stressed, starts to lower with just 20-30 minutes of immersing ourselves in the natural world. This is important to know because the impact of prolonged elevated cortisol levels can make us feel poorly, not look our best, and potentially shave years off our lives! If we can offset the effects of spiked cortisol, the lasting impact on our overall wellbeing is positive. Using birding as a vehicle to promote our personal wellness (dubbed Ornitiherapy)—how can we refuse?

I was honored to receive an invitation from the Leica Store Los Angeles to provide nature-based wellness programing, including Ornitherapy events. During my visit, Leica sponsored free programs for the community: Forest Bathing with Birds and a lecture on the concept of “Ornitherapy”, which was held in the gallery of the Leica Store Los Angeles’ West Hollywood store.

Leica Sport Optics Nature Sales Manager, Whitney Lanfranco, helped facilitate the programs, and invaluable during “Forest Bathing with Birds” experiences at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery– which sits in the foothills of the iconic HOLLYWOOD sign. If you are wondering what Forest Bathing with Birds is, perhaps worried it might involve shedding clothing and hugging trees, I can assure you, the only thing that will be shed during this practice is your stress and anxiety! With origins inspired by the Japanese practice of Shinrin Yoku, Forest Bathing or Forest Therapy, harnesses the health and restorative benefits the natural world holds for us as we slow our pace and engage a heightened sensory awareness. When combined with Ornitherapy, the wellness benefits of both practices are magnified.

Californians are no strangers to embracing new concepts and ideas, particularly surrounding wellness, and sessions reached max capacity quickly. Intriguing for many was the fact these events were being held in a cemetery – and not a typical cemetery, but one well-known as the final resting place of hundreds of celebrities. Known to be magnets for birds, cemeteries are often deemed birding hotspots. Hollywood Forever Cemetery, with its ponds, fountains, and a wide diversity of trees and plant-life, boasts abundant bird life, providing a peaceful and restorative experience.

Leica binoculars, compliments of Whitney, were available to borrow, magnifying experiences with birds and further boosting moments of awe through enhanced visual encounters. Avian highlights included tail-pumping Black Phoebes, feisty Allen’s Hummingbirds, stately Cassin’s Kingbirds, and acrobatic Ruby-crowned Kinglets – one who came so close to our watchful group, we thought he might land on our binoculars! Participants left their stress life pressures behind and gained insight through experience of the vital role birds and nature can play in their own personal wellness.
Has birding or being outdoors noticeably improved your wellbeing? If you aren’t responding yes immediately, why not give it a try right now?

Holly Merker is a professional birding guide, certified in Nature and Forest Therapy, Wellness Counseling, and coauthor of two books that guide readers towards optimizing the wellness benefits birds and nature provide us: “Ornitherapy: For Your Mind, Body, and Soul”, Crossley Books, 2021 and “Die Kraft der Vogelbeobachtung” (The Power of Birdwatching), Freya verlag, 2023.

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