Seeing or Hearing Birds Is Good for Well-Being

Positive effects of being around birds can last for 8 hours.

bird singing
Ornitolog82 / Getty Images

Listening to birds trill or watching them flit and fly is more than just entertaining. Being around birds offers benefits for emotional well-being that can last as long as eight hours, a new study finds.

Researchers used a phone application to collect information on how this specific nature exposure could be good for mental wellness.

“The motivation behind my research stems from my interest in exploring both protective and adverse environmental factors which could impact mental health,” lead author Ryan Hammoud, a research assistant at King’s College London, tells Treehugger. “I am hoping a better understanding of this could be used to influence the planning and design of healthier cities.”

There has been a lot of research that has explored the impact of nature on emotional health. This new study looks only at exposure to birds.

“Most previous studies have looked at the benefits of nature as a whole,” says Hammoud. “We chose to focus on birdlife to try and understand which specific characteristics of nature benefit mental well-being. None of the previous studies had investigated this in real-time and real-world contexts.”

Birds and Mental Well-Being

For their experiments, researchers used the Urban Mind app to follow 1,292 people who completed nearly 27,000 assessments. Participants were primarily from the United Kingdom, the European Union, and the United States.

Three times each day, the app asked users whether they could hear or see birds. They were asked to answer follow-up questions on their mental state at the time, so researchers could see if there was a connection and how long it lasted.

Mental well-being was measured with questions about whether they were feeling confident, relaxed, happy, for example, or more negative feelings such as whether they felt anxious, stressed, or lonely.

The study collected data on people who have diagnosed mental health conditions and those without. They discovered that bird activity is linked to improvements in emotional well-being in those who have not had mental health concerns, as well as those who have been diagnosed with depression.

They discovered that the effects were still observed in the following assessment which was up to eight hours later.

'Lifts the Spirits'

Researchers also found that the benefits were not associated with other environmental factors such as trees, plants, or waterways. It was all about the birds.

“Who hasn’t tuned into the melodic complexities of the dawn chorus early on a spring morning? A multi-sensory experience that seems to enrich everyday life, whatever our mood or whereabouts,” research partner and landscape architect Jo Gibbons said in a statement.

“This exciting research underpins just how much the sight and sound of birdsong lift the spirits. It captures intriguing evidence that a biodiverse environment is restorative in terms of mental well-being. That the sensual stimulation of birdsong, part of those daily ‘doses’ of nature, is precious and time-lasting.”

The results were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Time-Lasting Benefits

Scientists say this is the first time research has shown the direct link between seeing or hearing birds and having a positive mood.

“While we might intuitively think that the presence of birdlife improves our mental well-being until now we did not have an evidence base to support this,” Hammoud says. “I was surprised by the strength of the effect and the fact that benefits are still evident after accounting for the presence of other natural features such as trees and plants.”

Researchers say the results are both interesting and important.

“This is the first study to demonstrate time-lasting mental health benefits of encounters with birds in everyday life. Interestingly, these benefits are also evident in people with a diagnosis of depression, the most common mental illness worldwide,” Hammoud says. “This highlights the importance of protecting environments that encourage and sustain birdlife, not only for biodiversity but also for our mental health.”

View Article Sources
  1. Hammoud, Ryan, et al. “Smartphone-Based Ecological Momentary Assessment Reveals Mental Health Benefits of Birdlife.” Scientific Reports, vol. 12, no. 1, 2022, doi:10.1038/s41598-022-20207-6

  2. lead author Ryan Hammoud, a research assistant at King’s College London

  3. "Feeling Chirpy: Being Around Birds is Linked to Lasting Mental Health Benefits." Kings College London, 2022.