Birdwatching: A simple way to relax and be happy

Recent research by Dr. Cox and Professor Kevin Gaston, who are based at the Environmental Sustainability Institute at the Penryn Campus at the University of Exeter, found that watching birds makes people feel relaxed and connected to nature (Cox and Gaston, 2016).

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WASHINGTON, February 27, 2017 — Pity the nebbishy bird watcher, the butt of many jokes, the guy with high-waisted and high-water pants, a bucket hat and binoculars around his neck. The woman more attractive to birds than to men. Or this guy with his hummingbird feeder hat.

Birdwatchers are an easy target for comedy.

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But as they say, he who laughs last, laughs longest! A recent study shows that people who live in neighborhoods with more birds, shrubs and trees experience less depression, anxiety and stress.

The University of Exeter surveyed over 270 people and found that those who spent time communing with birds and who surround their homes with bird-attracting shrubs and trees are happier. The effect held for persons of different ages, income, and ethnicity.

The study also showed that the less time you spend outdoors, the greater the odds that you’ll suffer from anxiety or depression.

Dr. Daniel Cox, the University of Exeter research fellow who led the study said:

“This study starts to unpick the role that some key components of nature play for our mental well-being. Birds around the home, and nature in general, show great promise in preventative health care, making cities healthier, happier places to live.”

The study demonstrated that afternoon birdwatching provides a greater benefit than birdwatching in the morning. The study further revealed that it does not take the aerodynamic hummingbird, or the brilliant red cardinal or the majestic hawk to elevate our mood; common types of birds like blackbirds, robins, blue tits and crows are all equally soothing.

The positive association between birds, shrubs and trees and better mental health applied across age, gender and ethnic groups. The benefits also also held across socio-economic factors like household income, local economic conditions and a wide range of other socio-demographic factors.

The research is published in the journal Bioscience and was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council as conducted as part of the Fragments, Functions, Flows and Ecosystem Services project.

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