Does bird watching make you happy? Two new scientific papers demonstrate the contribution of birds to human wellness.

While much scientific evidence demonstrates natures positive contribution to human happiness and well-being in general, these two new papers provide evidence specific to the contribution made by birds in particular.

While looking at how nature affects human well-being, researches in Germany examined socio-economic data from more than 26,000 citizens across 26 European countries and macroecological data on species diversity for relationships between species diversity and human well-being. They found that “bird species richness is positively associated with life-satisfaction across Europe … of similar magnitude to that of income.”

Their report suggests this improvement in well-being is due to both the direct “multisensory experience of birds, and beneficial landscape properties which promote both bird diversity and people’s well-being.”

Predicted values of life-satisfaction show a positive relationship between bird species richness across European countries
Fig. 3. Predicted range of life-satisfaction and bird species richness relationships across 26 European countries. Predicted values of life-satisfaction show a positive relationship between bird species richness across European countries (coloured lines). The length of each coloured line is equivalent to the range between minimum and maximum bird species richness in each country. Source: “The importance of species diversity for human well-being in Europe”, by Joel Methorst, et. al., Ecological Economics, Volume 181, 2021

“Everyone likes birds. What wild creature is more accessible to our eyes and ears, as close to us and everyone in the world, as universal as a bird?”

Nature historian David Attenborough

Meanwhile, researchers at California Polytechnic State University studying how the sounds of nature contribute to human well-being, found that hikers exposed to the birdsong “reported higher levels of restorative effects” compared to those that didn’t.

How did they test this theory? Their paper describes how they hid audio players along two trails in Colorado, sometimes playing birdsong on them and sometimes not, and then surveyed the uphill hiker’s for their perception of perceived biodiversity and self-reported well-being.

Conceptual figure showing the effect of the birdsong on perceived psychological benefits to hikers
Figure S3. Conceptual figure showing the effect of the phantom chorus treatment. (Bottom) At the Gregory Canyon trail, hikers experienced perceived psychological benefits from the phantom chorus regardless of their perceived levels of bird species diversity. (Top) At the McClintock trail, hikers who perceived higher levels of bird species diversity experienced perceived psychological benefits from the phantom chorus. Source: Ferraro, Danielle M.; Miller, Zachary D.; Ferguson, Lauren A.; Taff, B. Derrick; Barber, Jesse R.; Newman, Peter; et al. (2020): Electronic Supplementary Material from The phantom chorus: birdsong boosts human well-being in protected areas. The Royal Society. Journal contribution. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.13336731.v2

Their findings “add to a growing body of evidence linking mental health to nature experiences and suggest that audition is an important modality by which natural environments confer restorative effects.”

The very idea of a bird is a symbol and a suggestion to the poet. A bird seems to be at the top of the scale, so vehement and intense is his life, large-brained, large-lunged, hot, ecstatic, his frame charged with buoyancy and his heart with song.

Naturalist John Burroughs

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