I’ve always known it—or at least I’ve always been pretty sure. And now, finally, there is scientific research that proves it. I was right all along: Bird watching is good for your mental health
In my experience, if I’m having a bad day or the stress of everyday life is beginning to close in, I feel a need to be a little closer to nature. A few minutes with the birds or in my garden definitely helps relax and calm me. I slow down a little and put things back in proper perspective. It doesn’t have to be a prolonged nature outing. Maybe I’ll take a short walk in the park or simply watch a chickadee grab a sunflower seed at the feeder. Anything. Nature has always been an effective stress reducer for me. And now there is scientific proof.
The February 2017 issue of the prestigious journal BioScience published the results of a study by Daniel Cox of the University of Exeter (UK) and colleagues from the University of Maryland and the University of Queensland (Australia). The team followed the activities of about 300 adults living primarily in urban areas, and attempted to identify factors in their lives that had an impact, good or bad, on the quality of their mental health. The conclusions of their study were remarkable.
The study showed a definite correlation between a participant’s level of stress, anxiety, and depression, and their exposure to birds, shrubs, trees and vegetation. The greater the exposure to nature, the lower the levels of stress. Fewer birds, more stress. Moreover, the amount of exposure to birds and nature did not have to be intense in order to achieve favorable results. No need to spend a week camping in a wilderness area to achieve the calming effect of nature. The simple act of looking out your kitchen window and noticing the birds in your backyard was enough. Participants did not consider themselves to be bird watchers and few could even name the birds they noticed. Just noticing had a positive impact on mental health. Surprisingly, the sheer number of birds they saw seemed to influence their mental state. If they reported seeing fewer birds one week than they had the previous week, their judgement of their own stress level was usually higher for current week than the previous period.
The ultimate conclusion of the study was that bird watching is good for your mental health.
I could have told the scientists that, and there wouldn’t have been a need to spend all that time and money on the study. I could also tell them that not only is bird watching an effective stress reducer, it is also more enjoyable and cheaper than professional therapy.
About the Author
Hank Weber is a retired business executive who has nothing to do all day except relax, watch birds, and enjoy life in the Hudson River Valley, just 20 miles north of New York City. Some call him an unemployed bum. Others mostly ignore him.