Review: ‘Bird Therapy’, by Joe Harkness


I can’t remember the last book I read that I could say with absolute assurance would save lives. But this one will.’ Chris Packham

When Joe Harkness suffered a breakdown in 2013, he tried all the things his doctor recommended: medication helped, counselling was enlightening, and mindfulness grounded him. But nothing came close to nature, particularly birds. How had he never noticed such beauty before? Soon, every avian encounter took him one step closer to accepting who he is.

The positive change in Joe’s wellbeing was so profound that he started a blog to record his experience. Three years later he has become a spokesperson for the benefits of birdwatching, spreading the word everywhere from Radio 4 to Downing Street.

In this groundbreaking book filled with practical advice, Joe explains the impact that birdwatching had on his life, and invites the reader to discover these extraordinary effects for themselves.

My Review

Thanks to Anne, of Random Things Blog Tours, and Joe, for sending me a copy of his book.

Bird Therapy is a form of eco therapy; using the natural environment to relieve mental ill health symptoms. I have written about this type of therapy in reviews of a couple of other books (here and here), so the idea is familiar to me, but this particular iteration is not one I’ve come across before. Previous versions have stressed the importance of time among nature, the sounds of nature etc. with reference to experiments all over the world. this type of eco therapy is passive, just sit there and enjoy the phytochemicals and sounds. Bird therapy, by it’s nature, is much more active – there’s a lot of walking in bird watching; it’s also a form of mindfulness, just being in the time and place to watch birds and enjoy the sights.

I was strongly affected by this book; having struggled with mental health problems for over twenty years, I identified with Joe’s feelings of being lost, disconnected, of self-medicating, of obsession and anxiety. But I also identified with the feelings of peace and contentment found in being in a natural environment. Of learning and experiencing the new, of connecting and finding a sense of place that brings relief from the anxiety and depression. Joe is a practiced writer, and describes his experiences with grace and eloquence, and the illustrations are lovely.

Now if you don’t mind, I need to dig out my Collins Bird book that I’ve had for 30 years (present from dad on one of my early walking trips) and watch the garden feeders…


Joe Harkness has been writing a Bird Therapy blog for the last three years. In 2017, he had articles published in The Curlew and Birdwatch magazine as well as recording three ‘tweets of the day’ for BBC Radio 4. He is employed as a Special Educational Needs teacher and has worked in the youth sector for nine years. He lives in Norfolk.


Published by

R Cawkwell

Hi I'm Rosemarie and I like to write. I write short stories and longer fiction, poetry and occasionally articles. I'm working on quite a few things at the minute and wouldn't mind one day actually getting published in print.

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