The Benefits of Birdsong
Feb 27, 2020
“No air is sweet that is silent; it is only sweet when full of low currents of under sound – triplets of birds, and murmur and chirps of insects,” wrote John Ruskin, a Victorian-era writer and art critic.
Bird sounds have proven to be both therapeutic and powerfully effective for gathering environmental data. Each species has its own unique song and calls. The Brown Thrasher can sing 2,000 song variations and the cowbird has 40 different notes. Male cardinals sing to defend nesting territory, and male and females sing softly to each other while courting.
Birdsong’s clarity and consistency has made it especially effective for researching not only birds themselves, but also the impacts of wildfires, droughts and other environmental disturbances on birds and humans. Researchers are using these sounds – bird bioacoustics – to gather valuable information to assist various projects and studies around the world, including measuring bird songs as an indicator of the health of California forests after fires, coffee farm pesticides’ effect on bird populations in Central and South America, and counting the number of birds that crash into high-tension power lines along the Pacific in order to find remedies.
A single bird can have a huge effect on a single region, such as the Hawaiian rainforest, where researchers are trying to recover the Puaiohi thrush, whose population has diminished to just 500 birds. The Puaiohi’s role as the island’s primary fruit eater and seed spreader makes it indispensable for maintaining the forest.
The positive effects of birdsong on humans is well documented. The sounds of birds, especially songbirds, has consistently shown to improve mood and mental alertness. An experiment with British schoolchildren found that students listening to birdsong were more attentive after lunch than those who didn’t listen.* In its relaxation lounge, Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport plays birdsong to soothe weary travelers. “People love it,” writes Florence Williams in “The Nature Fix.”
The popularity of bird sounds spurred creation of a “Shazam” (the popular music app) for birds. The app, developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, can record birdsongs and instantly identify the species.
Birdsong brings benefits to both our inner and outer worlds, so take time to get out and go for a listen.
* “The Nature Fix” by Florence Williams, 2017.