New research reveals that everyday encounters with birdlife can have positive, longterm benefits for people’s wellbeing, including those already suffering with depression…
Words: Annie Ridout
One of the things I like most about summer in the UK is that I can sleep with the windows open. This means that come dawn, the birdsong flows in with the cool morning breeze, rousing me gently from my sleep.
In fact, the beauty of hearing birds tweeting outdoors first thing in the morning is so important to me that it was this – along with wanting to be surrounded by more green space – that prompted me to leave London for Somerset.
I would envisage my new life with a view of open fields and bird formations overhead, at dawn and dusk. The occasional bird swooping down to collect berries and seeds, their song floating through the air, while I drank my morning coffee in the garden.
And while I don’t quite have a view of open fields – it’s a 30-second walk away – I definitely do have an array of birds tweeting and swooping and enjoying the seeds and water that we leave for them around the garden.
It brings me daily joy and so I’m not wholly surprised that new research reveals that we can all benefit from hearing birdsong. Those who are healthy can enjoy longterm mental wellbeing benefits, as can people already suffering with depression.
While there are plenty of studies proving that being connected to nature can help with our mental health, there is less information about why being in these green (grass/trees) and blue (water) spaces is so beneficial.
But with 1.3 million people in the UK signed up as members of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, it makes sense that our nation’s love of birds, and their song, is part of the appeal.
The authors of the study revealed that ‘most people experience birdsong as restorative from psychological stress and attentional fatigue.’ Also, that specific qualities of bird sounds such as perceived familiarity, complexity and pattern are ‘predictive of perceived restorative potential.’
So it’s a combination of the mindful distraction of hearing the birds sing – and also, potentially, seeing them, making it a multi-sensory experience – and the connection we might feel to the birds, as we become familiar with their song.
The study found that participants’ mental wellbeing was significantly better when seeing or hearing birds compared to when not seeing or hearing birds – and that age, gender, ethnicity, education and occupation made no difference; it was positive across the board.
Now, there is hope that this research will lead to new environmental and wildlife protection policies so that the natural habitats of birds – in both rural and urban settings – are protected.
So, as part of your daily SQ (spiritual intelligence) routine, you might like to stand outdoors first thing in the morning and listen for the birds. You can enjoy it in the moment and know that it is setting you up for better mental wellbeing in the longer-term, too.