Birds Can Make Us Feel Better for Up to Eight Hours, Study Finds – Science – Haaretz


Living on the cheep: The benefit from observing birds and listening to chirping is now quantified in a King’s College London study
It’s official: birds are good for you. Hearing birdsong or even just seeing our feathered friends can improve our sense of well-being for up to eight hours, according to new research from King’s College London.
This applies not only to the mentally robust but also to people suffering from diagnosed depression, according to a paper published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports last week.
Previous work had shown green spaces reduce the lifetime risk of depression for urban residents. Now the study examines more narrowly the effect of observing or hearing birds, and its conclusions make sense. There is a reason why there is an Audubon Society and not a Gazing at Lizards for Fun and Profit Society.
The data was accumulated over a few years using a smartphone application, Urban Mind, which collects self-reported assessments of mental well-being in correlation with proximity to birds. The app had been developed by the college researchers, architects J&L Gibbons and the Nomad Projects arts foundation.
Note that it had been developed not to check what we feel about canaries, but to “examine how exposure to natural features within the built environment affects mental well-being in real time.” Indeed, it has been shown that regular exposure to natural phenomena such as forests and lakes, wild expanse and trees does wonders for our well-being.
As for birdlife, the UK Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has 1.3 million registered members – which is more than the members of all the political parties together, the authors observe. The correlation was elucidated because people clearly like birds, but the effect of proximity had been suspected but not scientifically demonstrated. Now it has been.
Self-reporting via the app between April 2018 and October 2021, nearly 1,300 study participants, from various countries (46 percent from Britain, 16 percent from the European Union, 8 percent from the United States, 4 percent from China and 2 percent from Australia) established the direct link between birds and well-being.
The participants were recruited via social media, the project website and word of mouth, so is it possible that bird-haters did not flock to participate? No: “The Urban Mind app and study was related to how city living and the environment in general affects mental wellbeing. The app collected data about several aspects of the environment – natural, social, built, and air quality – as well as mental wellbeing and sleep quality, etc. Once the data was collected, we decided to explore the effect of different environmental characteristics on mental wellbeing (one of which – hearing or seeing birds),” lead author Ryan Hammoud explains.
If anything, a limitation would potentially be a bias towards younger, smartphone-using participants who were interested in research in general, but not one that was specifically biased towards birds, he adds.
Using a mobile app meant that the mind-set of the 1,292 participants upon observing and/or hearing an avian could be reported in real time. This resolves a snag in earlier work on enjoyment of birdsong, which is that reporting after the event can create recall bias (especially among people with mental health issues, the authors note).
The app prompted the participants three times a day, asking if they were in visual or auditory range of birdlife (yes/no/don’t know) and inquiring into their current state of mind using 10 questions, thus creating “ecological momentary assessments.” Based on over 25,000 completed assessments, the researchers showed association between birds and beneficial brain-feel.
The uplift from birdsong or seeing them can last up to eight hours, the researchers estimate. Hopefully, familiarity does not breed contempt. It’s said the most beautiful birdsong is the nightingale: it’s hard to imagine growing inured to that melody.
The researchers also demonstrated that links between birdsong and bonhomie is not because of co-occurring environmental factors, such as a pretty lake. The researchers’ conclusion is that birds bear protecting, and measures aimed at preserving and increasing everyday encounters with birdlife in urban areas should be implemented.
It bears stressing: urban areas. Over half of the global population lives in cities that are growing increasingly crowded, befouled and weather-stressed. Some forecast that by the year 2050, two-thirds of the global population will be urban, and city folk have been shown to have a higher risk of mental health problems – from depression and floating anxiety to psychosis and more.
Why nature, green spaces, etc., actually relieve our mental strains is a question for another day. But they do, and part of that is birds, from the iridescent hummingbird to the tuneful nightingale to the giant cassowary. Here is a video of a hummingbird squeaking.
“Who hasn’t tuned into the melodic complexities of the dawn chorus early on a spring morning?” asked co-author Jo Gibbons, a landscape architect and evidently a fan of the avian.
Well, some of us close the window against the fumes and soot, and song of squealing brakes as drivers dodge pedestrians, but she makes a point.
Unfortunately, bird populations are in severe decline, as are so any animal populations. In 2019, Cornell University reported “staggering” decline among North American birds, including the “sweet-singing white-throated sparrows.”
More happily, some of the most popular and best-known birds are still robust, such as the cardinal.
But the secretive yet noisy booming bittern has been classified as a “priority species” because it is in trouble, and the story of the various ostrich species in Africa is a mixed bag. It’s lucky that people like their meat and eggs and feathers enough to capture and farm them (make no mistake, they have not been domesticated). “If not for ostrich farming, which began in 1838, then the world’s largest bird would probably be extinct,” according to the African Wildlife Foundation.
They aren’t quite as musical as the nightingale or even the crow, but surely watching them makes one feel better about life.
On the beach in Tel Aviv the other day, this author heard a mynah (an invasive species) meowing, possibly thinking that if people mistake it for a cat, they will feed it. Mynahs have broad vocal abilities.
Apropos, blaming cats for decimating local birds is a cheap shot fueled by moral panic. It’s our fault at every level.
As for birdsong that changes one’s state of mind, here is a video of the white bellbird making mating calls. It can be heard for some distance.
The white bellbird’s main problem in life is habitat destruction through deforestation, but it’s been going great guns so far and isn’t considered endangered – probably because the male’s call to action is one that can’t be missed.
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