Studying the benefits of birdsong to human life


Not my recording; but, familiar enough to be outside my window

Conservation charities and scientists are beginning a research project to find out whether birdsong has any impact on people’s mental wellbeing. Surrey University, in conjunction with the National Trust and Surrey Wildlife Trust, will look for effects on mood, creativity and behaviour.

Though many people say they enjoy birdsong and other natural sounds, there is a lack of academic evidence…

Although there has been a lot of research on responses to nature in vision – for example, showing that hospital patients respond to treatment better if they see images of landscapes rather than urban walls – relatively little has been done on sound.

“There have been a studies showing for example that natural sounds can help people recover physiologically from stress,” said Eleanor Ratcliffe, the psychologist from Surrey University in Guildford who will lead the project. “I’m interested in breaking that down, finding out what sorts of natural sounds and even what species people prefer listening to and find most interesting…”

“I’m really interested in how people rate and respond to different types of song, for examples comparing a crow with a wren,” Ms Ratcliffe told BBC News. “There’s also the issue of the symbolic associations people have with different bird sounds – for example, if they associate hearing a particular species with a nice holiday.”

Last year, the National Trust launched a scheme encouraging people to listen to birdsong for five minutes each day, as a way of combatting the “winter blues”…”It’s a simple pleasure that most of us can enjoy, even if we live in towns and cities.”

The new study will find out whether this mood enhancement is a reality for people who are not already bird or nature enthusiasts.

I’m not certain if I’d want to be around someone who can’t appreciate a part of natural life like birdsong.

Our family is one that looks and listens for birds and their song as a regular part of our lives. We pay attention to the ravens and flickers, where they are and what they’re doing. We pay particular attention to the annual appearance of a pair of Great Horned Owls in our courtyard trees as the sign of winter having thoroughly arrived. We don’t get to see more than a silhouette against the stars or moon; but, their calling brings us to the door – and outdoors to listen.

Just last week – for the first time – we were visited by a saw-whet owl that had me convinced that something mechanical was malfunctioning along the outer wall of my study until I realized that sound was coming from outdoors.

Every species plays a part in the seasons and our enjoyment of life as natural beings.

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