Two studies published last year in Scientific Reports said that seeing or hearing birds could be good for our mental well-being.
So give them a listen as you learn why they may help.
Birds appear to be a specific b of these healing benefits. They are almost everywhere and provide a way to connect us to nature. And even if they are hidden in trees or in the underbrush, we can still revel in their songs.
Recent research also suggests that listening to recordings of their songs, even through headphones, can alleviate negative emotions.
Being around birds is associated with better mental health
Everyday encounters with the bird kind are associated with better mental health.
The participants were not explicitly told that the researchers were looking at birds — the app was also collecting data about other vitals such as sleep quality, subjective assessment of air quality, and location details. But the 26,856 assessments offered a rich data set of what is associated with mental well-being in real time in the real world.
The benefits persisted well beyond the bird encounter. If a participant reported seeing or hearing birds at one point, their mental well-being was higher, on average, hours later even if they did not encounter birds at the next check-in.
This has an interesting implication for trying to protect and preserve environments to sustain bird life, Hammoud said, “because people with depression do show positive effects toward birdsong and birdlife in the area.”
Listening to birdsongs alleviates feelings of anxiety and paranoia
The birdsongs you are hearing may already be helping your mood.
“Listening to birdsong through headphones was able to hit the same pathways that might be beneficial toward mental well-being,” said Hammoud, who was not involved in the second study. “That’s a very, very nice finding,”
Researchers asked 295 online participants to self-assess their emotional states and to take a cognitive memory test. Then they randomly assigned the participants to listen to birdsongs or traffic noise, of more or less diversity. The researchers then had the subjects remeasure their emotional and cognitive states.
Participants who listened to more diverse birdsongs (featuring the acoustic acrobatics of eight species) reported a decrease in depressive symptoms in addition to significant decreases in feelings of anxiety and paranoia. And those who listened to less diverse birdsongs (two bird species) also reported a significant decrease in feelings of anxiety and paranoia.
(This study was conducted in Europe, and the birds featured were also European. The ones you are seeing and hearing now are more likely to be encountered by our North American readers in their backyards.)
By contrast, listening to more or less diverse traffic noise worsened symptoms of depressive states.
The research shows the “healing aspects of nature, or also the not-so-positive effects of urban surroundings,” said Stobbe, an author of the second study.
Birds help us feel more connected with nature and its health effects, Stobbe said, and the more connected we are to nature, the more we can benefit from those effects.
It is not yet understood how birdsong affects our brains, but neuroimaging studies have found brain responses of stress reduction to other forms of nature exposure.
How to get the most out of birds
When we go outside, it is easy to forget that birds are also there singing their hearts out if we don’t pay attention.
“Try to be aware. And that’s actually all that you need to do,” Stobbe said. “And with this little step, you can be one step closer to getting those beneficial effects or enhancing the time that you spend outdoors.”
Birdsongs can be used to soothe our minds in a stressful world, or in a clinical setting to treat patients with anxiety or paranoia, both studies suggest.
“People can use easy, accessible treatment or prevention techniques by just listening to an audio CD of things representing nature,” Stobbe said. “Or, of course, also going inside nature and trying to seek those effects.”