Encounters with birds and their songs improve mental health, according to a study | Birds

One swallow may not make summer, but seeing or hearing birds improves mental well-being, researchers have found.

The studyled by academics from King’s College London, also found that everyday encounters with birds improved the mood of people with depression, as well as the general population.

The researchers said the findings suggested that doctors might prescribe visits to places with large numbers of birds, such as parks and canals, to treat mental health conditions. They added that their findings also highlighted the need to better protect the environment and enhance biodiversity in urban, suburban and rural areas to preserve bird habitats.

The study, published in the journal scientific reportstracked the daily bird encounters of 1,292 participants last year through a smartphone app called urban mind.

Over the course of two weeks, participants from the UK, Europe, US, China and Australia were asked at random intervals to record how they felt, including whether they were happy or stressed, whether they could see trees, and whether they could see or hear birds.

The researchers found that participants’ average mental well-being scores increased when they saw or heard birds, even among those who disclosed that they had been diagnosed with depression.

This beneficial effect also lasted beyond the time of the bird encounter, with higher levels of mental well-being noted by participants who did not see or hear birds the next time they recorded their mood.

However, this positive effect did not persist if the participants did not encounter birds during their subsequent mood assessment, which the researchers said indicated “a possible causal effect of birds on mental well-being.”

Andrea Mechelli, Professor of Mental Health Early Intervention at King’s College London, said: “We need to create and support environments, particularly urban environments, where bird life is a constant feature. To have a healthy population of birds, you also need plants, you also need trees. We need to nurture the entire ecosystem within our cities.”

He added that the positive effect of bird encounters on people with depression was significant because many “interventions that help so-called ‘well people’ don’t work for people with mental health problems.”

Mechelli said: “We know that exercise makes everyone feel better. But it’s incredibly challenging to motivate someone with depression to exercise. While the contact with the life of the birds is something that, perhaps, is feasible”.

Artist Michael Smythe of nomadic projectswho helped King’s College London develop the smartphone app for the study, said the research also raised questions about the link between health inequalities and access to nature, and other research showed deprived areas often had less green space than affluent areas.

Co-founded nomadic projects Bethnal Green Nature Reserve Trustthat he built a pond last summer that, according to Smythe, attracted an “enormous diversity of birds.”

“It’s a very therapeutic, biodiverse, space-abundant complex within a massive development between four major highways,” Smythe said. “Now it’s a place where people go in droves every day just to relax.”

Adrian Thomas, the author of the Royal Society for the Protection of BirdsGuide to Birdsong, said the report’s findings were not a surprise, as most people described their reaction to birdsong as joy.

He added: “Birdsong would have once been the natural soundtrack to all human lives, and I believe it is embedded somewhere deep in our psyche. It is associated with spring, renewal and good times ahead, which is just one of the reasons why we need to address this nature crisis and make sure that nature is not left silent.”

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