The Healing Power of Birds: How Birds Can Help us Heal

Photo of ducks showing the healing power of birdsw birds can help us heal
Photo by Christine John

It was pretty epic as far as break ups go. We had jumped into the relationship with both feet and never left any time for healing. His marriage had ended a few years earlier. Mine a few months before. So it shouldn’t have been a surprise when it all fell apart. But somehow, for me, this break up was more brutal than almost anything I could remember. Perhaps it was because we had jumped in so fast. Or maybe it was that I had allowed myself to become attached to his three beautiful kids. Or perhaps it was because, for the first time, I had really felt in love. But regardless of the reason, it left me feeling so low that I thought I might never recover. It was during this time that I discovered the healing power of birds.

As I Watched Those Two Hummingbirds I Knew Everything Would Be All Right

As I was laying in my hammock, crying buckets of tears, wondering how I would ever manage to pick myself up and move on, I suddenly heard a small racket overhead. I was lying under a couple of mimosa trees full of blooms. When I looked up I saw two hummingbirds squabbling over who would get the nectar. I’m not quite sure what it was about that particular moment that jarred me out of my grief, but something immediately changed my thinking. As I watched those two hummingbirds fly over my head, I just knew that everything would be all right.

Years later, after hitting another low point in my life, I sat on my patio overlooking a pond. Right at that moment, a fantastic blue heron landed nearby and began intently searching for fish. In that very moment, I again knew somehow everything would work out. Surely, that moment of awe that pulled me out of my negative thinking reverie, played a role in changing my mood. But I can’t help wondering what it is specifically about birds that seem to offer some kind of healing power.

Many Cultures See Birds as Symbols of Power and Healing

I’m not a bird watcher. In fact, I know very little about birds. So I did some research to find out what it is about birds that creates such a feeling of awe and wonder in us. What I discovered, is that many cultures see birds as powerful symbols. A number of Native American tribes consider the eagle to be sacred and use the eagle feather as a sign of courage and honor. They view the eagle as the strongest and bravest of all birds. For this reason, its feathers symbolize what is highest, bravest, strongest, and holiest. Some believe that any feather seen falling from the sky is a gift, but the eagle feather remains one of the most esteemed.

Japanese culture believes in folklore suggesting that a crane can live 1,000 years. The crane has become a symbol of love and long life. Following WWII, a young girl who had been exposed to radiation, folded 1,000 cranes before she died of leukemia. The belief in the healing power of the crane increased following this event. In 2007, the Sadako Legacy began donating Sadako’s paper cranes around the world to places in need of healing.

What is it Specifically About Birds that Can Help us Heal?

Birds have fascinated people and cultures since the beginning of time. So what is it about a bird that relates to healing? First and foremost, bird watching takes us outside, providing all the healing aspects of nature that go along with that. But bird watching also requires us to sit very quiet and still, which provides a calming effect similar to that of meditation, and gives us a chance to rest our attention. In addition to sitting quietly, bird watching teaches us patience. Identifying birds requires time spent learning about specific types of birds and their habitat, traveling to find the birds, and then waiting to hopefully catch sight of one.

Bird watching also increases mental alertness. The simple act of finding and observing birds helps strengthen the attention span and powers of observation. Birds also provide the element of surprise, and surprise provides a brief moment when the fight or flight response becomes engaged. Once that is released, it leads to a feeling of happiness and joy. As many birders can attest, birds just make us feel better. By paying close attention to their presence, we wake to the present moment, letting go of stress and other worries.

Taking Time to Notice the Birds

Bird watching combines many benefits including spending time outdoors, learning to sit and wait, and then enjoying the moments of surprise and awe. After learning about how birds can help us heal, I decided to give it a try. I didn’t need to venture far. As I walked by the nearby river, I could hear the birds singing overhead. At first I felt impatient, as my mind raced with all of the things I needed to get done. But I made myself sit quietly on a log and wait. It took a little time, but then I noticed a small woodpecker and I immediately felt a sense of joy.

Photo of blue heron showing the healing power of birds birds can heal
Photo by Christine John