Birds use chirps, trills, and warbles to attract mates, alert others of predators, and defend their territory. But whenever they sing, they’re indicating that all is well in the world. And when we hear that reassurance, something deep inside of us feels profoundly reassured.
So strong is this effect that spending time listening to birds can ease depression, reduce feelings of worry, help you stay in the present and better connect with those around you. Here’s what the research says:
Birdsong significantly relieves depression and anxiety
Bird-watchers have spoke about the health benefits of birdsong for years, but science is just starting to catch up.
One study conducted at Kings College London and published in the journal Nature found that people who saw or heard birds during the day experienced less depression, anxiety and paranoia. Those benefits were lasting, as research participants reported feeling better, even hours later.
Interestingly enough, the scientists found that listening to birdsong positively affected healthy people as well as those with depression. This discovery suggests that time in nature listening to birds could provide an alternative treatment for depression, a disorder that’s twice as likely to affect women than men.
“I once had a patient who struggled with severe depression,” says Ketan Parmar, MD, a psychiatrist, psychologist and contributing author at ClinicSpots. “Encouraging them to listen to birdsong and spend time outdoors played a significant role in their recovery. They described the experience as a lifeline, gradually rekindling their zest for life.”
Birdsong eases worry by bringing you back to the present
There’s also evidence that birdsong helps reduce feelings of worry and stress. Natural sounds, like bird song, help listeners focus on the present, offering a sense of calm and peace.
When researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development assessed how two common environmental sounds — traffic and birdsong — affected mood, worry and thinking, they found that regardless of how many birds were featured in a recording, participants experienced reduced worry and anxiety after listening, while traffic sounds had the opposite effect.
This comes as no surprise to mindfulness coach Joy Rains, author of Meditation Illuminated (Buy from Amazon, $15). “Shifting attention from my busy mind to the sounds of birdsong is a practice I’ve come to appreciate,” she says. “When I ‘listen’ to the thoughts in my busy mind, it’s easy to become stressed or worried. But when I shift my attention to the birds, I don’t have to ‘do’ anything. It’s such a meditative, relaxing, and positive practice.”
Birdsong helps you reconnect with others
A 2020 report published by researchers at Harvard University found that 31% of Americans reported feelings of “serious loneliness.” A surprising way to sidestep these feelings of isolation? Listening to birdsong.
“This is related to the idea of ‘biophilia’, or the feeling of connection with other living things,” says Carolina Estevez, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist at Infinite Recovery. “Additionally, the presence of other people enjoying the same activity in nature (like listening to birdsong) may increase feelings of connectedness which can further support positive mental health.”
Luis Huber, a small business owner and nature enthusiast, uses birding to build stronger connections with loved ones.
“My family and I have made it a tradition to go on rejuvenating walks every weekend, weather permitting,” Huber says. “At first, my husband and children would occasionally grumble, but over time they’ve come to embrace the therapeutic nature of these strolls.
“Beyond the sheer beauty of these experiences, the profound impact on our mental health lies in the harmonious connection we share as a family.”
Where to Listen to Birdsong
Wondering how to use these benefits to your own advantage? There are plenty of places to listen to birds, whether you live in a city or the countryside.
If you live near lots of trees or a large field, you might be able to hear birds singing by opening the windows. If that’s not an option, you can visit:
- Local parks
- Botanical gardens
- State or National Parks
- Nature reserves
- Natural environments, like mountains, beaches, or forests
If you have limited mobility or no transportation, try listening to birdsong from the comfort of home. There are various websites and apps with libraries of birdsong recordings, including:
Consider downloading the Merlin app if you want to make bird-watching a new hobby. Developed by scientists at Cornell University, it uses deep learning technology to identify birds from recordings and photos.
Birdsong can boost your mood and relieve worry, but only if you make time to listen. Open your windows, walk around your neighborhood or visit a local nature preserve. All you need is some time and your ears.
“The calming effects of nature, and particularly birdsong, play a vital role in maintaining positive mental health,” Dr. Parmar says. “Don’t wait. Go outside and enjoy!”
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