Well-Being Mental Health

Being around birds can improve mental health, research shows

A new study by British researchers looked at real-time data of people’s mental state after seeing or hearing birds.
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A Pied Cormorant fishes at the Menindee Lakes main weir on May 17, 2021 in Menindee, Australia. The Menindee Lakes are a system of nine large, shallow lakes in far-western New South Wales.  Brook Mitchell/Getty Images

Story at a glance

  • A new study from King’s College London found that bird sightings and sounds have a positive impact on people’s mental wellbeing.  

  • The study was published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports.  

  • Researchers used an app to check real-time feelings of people seeing or hearing birds.  

Seeing or hearing a bird might be able to improve people’s mental well-being.   

A new study published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports claims that exposure to birds—either in the home or outdoors—can boost people’s moods.  

Researchers at King’s College London used a smartphone app built by the school’s Urban Mind project to collect the real-time feelings of study participants upon seeing or hearing a bird.  

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A total of 1,292 people living in the United Kingdom, Europe, and the United States participated in the study which was conducted between April 2018 and October 2021. 

Women made up the majority of the study pool, with 71 percent of the participant pool identifying as female, while only 28 percent said they were male and 1 percent identified as other with an average age of 35, according to the study.  

The app asked study participants three times a day whether they could see or hear a bird followed by a series of questions on their mental well-being.  

Participants were also asked questions about whether they could see trees, plants or hear any water to see if people were experiencing better mental well-being due to being in or seeing nature, and not just because of exposure to birds.  

According to the study, the mental well-being of study participants with and without depression was “significantly improved” after seeing a bird or hearing birdsong compared to not seeing or hearing a bird.

Something that surprised researchers was how long people reported having an improved mood after being exposed to a bird.  

Every participant that reported a “positive gain” toward their mental health after hearing or seeing a bird, experienced that gain until the next app message, the study states.  

“That was something that quite hit home that it’s not just an immediate effect,” said Ryan Hammoud, research assistant at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience at King’s College London and lead author of the study. “It’s also something that just lasts for up to eight hours. 

There is a growing number of studies that link spending time outdoors —either in green leafy places or next to bodies of water—to improved mental health. But there are few studies that look at how different aspects of nature can play into humans’ mental well-being.  

And while the study adds to the small pile of research on birds and mental health, the report marks the first time researchers have studied the responses to birds and mental well-being in real-time, according to Hammoud. 

“They kind of examine nature as a single entity when nature consists of many different characteristics and features like trees, plants, water, birds,” said Hammoud.  

“We chose to focus on bird life to try and understand which specific characteristics of nature benefit mental wellbeing.”