Whilst the popularity of feeding birds nutritious bird food, birdwatching or ‘birding’ as it is commonly known, has seen a fast increase in recent years. Its benefits and how birds improve mental health may have been somewhat overlooked. Yet, there must be something that has people flocking to these classic pastimes.
Keep reading to discover how birds can help elevate stress and improve our physical and mental wellbeing.
Birds' songs can improve mindfulness
Birdwatching takes us into the epicentre of nature, where we can be in the moment. Drowning out the noise of everyday life so we can focus on the here and now. And the simple sound of bird songs can do wonders for our mental well-being. A 2013 study found that birdsong is often associated with stress recovery and increased attention span. In addition, a 2020 survey conducted by the Natural History Museum found that 73% of respondents reported hearing louder birdsong in lockdown. They also stated that it comforted and calmed them during this time.
Whether you’re watching from a window or in a park, birdwatching forces us to truly be still, eliminate distractions and refocus. This is not too dissimilar from practices involved in meditation and mindfulness. By immersing ourselves in the wild bird world, we help gain perspective on our own. If you don’t see birds very often in your garden or outside area, our guide on how to attract birds to your garden should help birds improve our mental health.
Getting physical and more active
Of course, you can watch birds from the comfort of your garden or even the kitchen window. However, you should get outside to reap the benefits and see them in their natural habitat.
Regular physical activity can improve our mental health by releasing those “feel good” endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals released when we exercise that create a sense of euphoria and have been proven to lift our mood and improve symptoms of mild depression.
With the NHS recommending 150 minutes of exercise per week, why not grab the binoculars, get out for a brisk walk, and find the best UK spots to bird watch while you’re at it!
Getting outside benefits mental health
Getting outside and ‘being at one with nature is sometimes just what the doctor ordered. Studies have found that being outside and surrounding ourselves with nature is known to lift our mood and reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression. In 2017, Bioscience found that residents who had more available green spaces and saw birds or were near them throughout the afternoon were less likely to suffer from depression, stress and anxiety.
Furthermore, a review by Natural England from the University of Essex and Mind showed a clear link between nature and the reduction in anxiety, stress and depression. So much so that many mental health and nature organisations are teaming up with local GPs to provide and encourage outdoor activities to those suffering from mental health-related issues.
Birdwatching advocates like Joe Harkness have told us for years about the positive impact nature can have on our minds and our mental health. Joe speaks openly and honestly about his own struggles with mental health and how birds helped aid his recovery. After publishing his book Bird Therapy, he is now a regular speaker at mental health and nature events.
The sky’s the limit
Part of the reason bird feeding and bird watching have proved popular and were picked up during lockdown is that there are no restrictions on when we can do these things. It is a multi-seasonal activity; you can do it whenever you want! Okay, so some seasons may require a few extra layers, but you are always guaranteed to spot a bird on your travels, and bird feeding can start right at home, right away!
Loneliness and mental health are strongly linked, and the feeling of isolation can harm our mental health. Some of us struggle to meet new people, which can be more challenging the older we get. So, hobbies like birdwatching and feeding provide opportunities to meet other enthusiasts and like-minded people.
You can easily sign up or register with a local birdwatching group. The RSPB and other organisations offer safe and friendly environments where local individuals can meet up regularly. You can even go on a birdwatching holiday! Many social media pages and groups offer an online format where you can chat, share your bird pictures, ask questions and interact.
The Big Garden Bird Watch is a great way to connect with like-minded people. Last year, the RSPB saw over one million people take to their gardens, balconies, and other outdoor spaces to participate and see all that nature has to offer.
Bringing birds into your world can be as cheap or expensive as you want it to be. For birdwatching, you could put your coat on, grab a bottle of water and a notebook and off you go! Or you could invest in some fancy walking shoes and a pair of high-spec binoculars. The same goes for bird feeding – check out this list of RSPB’s recommendations for feeding birds leftovers or read why it's important to feed wild birds.
Learning something new
It is well known that learning something new keeps the mind active and is recommended to improve our cognitive health. Learning new skills and engaging in hobbies has proven to positively impact not only our mental health but also our brain health.
Research has found that learning a new skill or engaging in a hobby is more beneficial than a daily puzzle or crossword as it requires more concentration and mental and memory stimulation. Birdwatching provides all these and more, and when combined with physical activity, which is also proven to help brain function, it makes for the perfect extracurricular activity.
With all this being said, if you haven’t already, why not find more ways to bring birds into your life? With all the mental and physical positives, it is clear to see how much you can benefit from it. To get started on your bird-feeding journey by reading our Wild Birds FAQs and Help & Advice section.