Is gloomy winter weather getting you down? A recent study has unexpectedly revealed something that may brighten your mood: birdsong.
Scientists long ago discovered that spending time in natural surroundings has positive effects on people’s emotional and physical health. You’re probably well aware of this phenomenon, seeking out green places as often as you can.
Living in California, as I do, makes that pretty easy to do. At least most of the time. Right now my home state is confronting challenges posed by too much rain. But we generally have an abundance of sunshine, allowing me to visit lots of greenery sprouting nearby. (I’ve also lived through many winters in Chicago and other cold-weather cities, so I’m well aware of the challenges there.)
But let’s look at exactly what can cheer you up, no matter where you live. Biologists at California Polytechnic University have spent the past few years investigating how birds may play a role in creating beneficial effects. Danielle Ferraro has focused on the impact of birdsong. Ferraro and her colleagues played two weeks’ worth of recordings of a number of species’ calls on two trails in a Colorado park. They then interviewed hikers on these trails, hoping they could discern changes in the calls of different bird species.
It turned out that they could. But the best thing the researchers learned is that the hikers reported experiencing greater feelings of joy and pleasure than those who walked the same trails when the recordings weren’t playing. Ferraro was astounded that “even 10 minutes of exposure to the recordings had very positive effects on people’s moods.”
A similar study conducted in Germany reached the same result. The German researchers found that the larger the number of bird and plant species in a region, the more content people were. British researchers came to a similar conclusion. (These studies are reported in the Winter 2023 issue of National Wildlife, published by the National Wildlife Federation.)
Ferraro thinks there may be an evolutionary reason for this phenomenon: Human brains may be genetically attuned to enjoying nature. “It could be our natural inclination.”
Reflecting on these studies, I think we can all benefit from listening to birdsong. Even in harsh weather, we can seek out trails in national and local parks, dressing smartly to withstand the chill. Birds survive in all kinds of climates, so you may be able to hear birdsong in winter even when you hike these trails in cold weather.
Another possibility: You can try to find recordings of birdsong and either play them in your own home or listen to them elsewhere. Listening outdoors in a park-like setting is probably best because you’re also benefiting from the natural surroundings.
Whichever way you choose, try to listen to those birds. Remember that Ferraro’s study concluded that even ten minutes of listening to birdsong can make you feel happier.
As we benefit from listening to the birds, please keep in mind the warnings I recently came across in a publication from Audubon, the primo organization concerned with protecting birds. Audubon warns us that climate change threatens nearly 400 bird species with extinction.
If we fail to confront climate change and its undeniable effects on our natural world, we may be ushering in the loss of many species of birds, along with countless others in the animal kingdom.
We would all be the losers.