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How bird sound can help our mental health & wellbeing

In a recent survey conducted by the Museum, 73% of people reported hearing louder birdsong during the COVID-19 lockdown in the UK. Many said it comforted and calmed them at a time of crisis - and research shows it really could help improve our mental health.

Dr Eleanor Ratcliffe, a lecturer in environmental psychology at the University of Surrey, looked at how bird sounds may restore attention and alleviate stress.

The first of her three studies consisted of an online test with 174 British residents listening, rating, and commenting on 50 different bird sounds from the UK and Australia.

The research found some bird sounds offered relief from mental fatigue and stress. This depended on the type of bird and what respondents associated it with.

For example, one participant found the gentle sound of chickens comforting following stress. It reminded her of when she would dig in the garden and her chickens would gather around, waiting for her to throw slugs at them.

Another participant associated the sound of wood pigeons with long, hot summers during her childhood which prompted feelings of enjoyment.

Cultural perception also played an important role. One participant associated owls with superstition, fear and death, however in many cultures' owls are revered, symbolising wisdom, intelligence, and endurance.

Other factors that affect how restorative birdsong is included sound level, frequency, complexity, pattern and familiarity.

Eleanor says, 'People like listening to bird sounds which are quiet, high frequency or have a level of complexity such as a melody.

'If bird sounds are loud, non-melodic, rough, simple or boring, people find them unpleasant or stressful.'

While bird sounds can be helpful for mental health, it depends on the bird, the sound it is making and the type of person who is listening to it.

This means that if birdsong were to be used to help with mental health therapy, it would need to be tailored to individuals.

You can read the full article here.


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