I mentioned in my last post that I was deprived of birdsong and other pleasures while recovering this summer. Well one day during this unwanted ‘detour’, my daughter entered my bedroom and immediately stopped to hear more closely what sounded like birds singing. She looked around at the half drawn curtains and then at me. “Are those real birds… or what”? “They are” I said, smiling. “It’s a live recording of the dawn chorus from birdsong in the UK from Birdsong.fm. I wasn’t able to get outside today so I thought I’d play some birdsong to cheer me up and help me relax.” This was just the sort of situation Birdsong’s creator had in mind.
“When I launched Birdsong.fm my friends thought I was barking mad,said James Mulvany, the man responsible for creating this special ‘station’. But I think it’s great for anyone who works in the city or lives a busy lifestyle. Call me eccentric maybe, but I’ve had countless people write to me.. saying how much it has benefited them. I see it like a sort of secret haven on the internet where you can escape to.”
According to Eleanor Ratcliffe, a Ph.D. candidate in environmental psychology at the University of Surrey, past studies found that bird songs have a number of positive attributes. They make traffic noise more tolerable, make people feel less crowded and can even mediate circadian rhythm, but few have looked at their broader impact on mental health.
“A great deal of anecdotal evidence suggests that we respond positively to birdsong,” she told the Guardian newspaper. “However, currently there is a lack of scientific research on the psychological effects of listening to birds.”
With funding from the U.K. National Trust and the Surrey Wildlife Trust, Ratcliffe will begin by interviewing a representative sample of the public to gauge their perception of natural sounds, including bird calls. She’ll try to find out if avian arias “can improve mood and attention after stress or fatigue,” she explains on her website.
Later in the study, she’ll seek test subjects via social media — including tweets, of course — to assess the effects of bird songs on their brains and behavior.Beyond that, Ratcliffe hopes to learn more about which kinds of bird songs boost mental health, and in what ways. After all, not all birds sing the same song. So she’ll be sussing out which songs are the most beneficial. She’ll also test reactions to recorded bird songs, an effort to see how the study might apply to daily life. If a city dweller listens to birds on an iPod, for instance, could it mimic hearing them sing in person?
If you’d like to do your own test or just enjoy some birdsong on a grey autumn day, you can get the app or mp3 and listen for yourself!