Trading Birdsong for Fireworks

As you celebrate New Year 2016, consider trading in the boom and lights for quiet birdsong, soft waves or a quiet garden stroll. 

Vashon Island in the Puget Sound. Credit

Vashon Island in the Puget Sound offers bird shelter among the driftwood. On the beach, small brown birds nestle and forage among the smooth pebbles and Puget Sound driftwood. 

If you spend a few minutes outside, even in your nearby park or field, you will likely experience lowered stress, restored attention, and positive feelings and perceptions. ‘Nature’ or ‘Outside’ often conjures visual images of trees and landscapes, but the sound of flowing water, melodic birdsong, and rustling leaves also provide health benefit.

When comparing natural sounds and bird sounds, bird songs and calls were found to be the type of natural sound most commonly associated with perceived stress recovery and attention restoration.

Birdsong and running water is rated as more pleasant than sounds from the built environment, and induce faster recovery from stress 1. Listening to river and bird sounds enhances self-reported motivation to work compared to listening to office sounds 2. Even listening to birdsong accompanied by classical music reduces self-reported negative feelings 3! However, not all bird sounds were regarded as helpful for such processes 4 (See Ratcliffe, Gatersleben, Sowden 2013).

What do we appreciate about bird sounds?

In one study, bird sounds were perceived as welcome distractions that effortlessly removed participants from cognitive or emotional demands, in a manner akin to the restoration construct of ‘fascination‘. The popularity of ‘birding’ suggests that there is something especially captivating about birds over and above other animals, perhaps due to their beauty, musical sounds, and their relative otherness, emphasised by their ability to fly 5.

This January, let us celebrate and appreciate the sounds around us. In 2016, take a stroll, search for treasures and experiences, and listen to the world around you.

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Want more birds in your area? Support your avian community by providing food, shelter and water. Even with adaptations to maintain heat, birds can succumb to storms, frigid temperatures and poor food supplies in winter.

Provide Quality Food: Select seeds, suet, nuts and other items high in fat and calories to give birds fuel to generate body heat.

Keep Feeders Full: After a cold night, birds need ready access to meals to replenish energy reserves.

Leave flower heads and stalks: Birds feed on seeds and insects that dried flowers and stems provide.

Offer Shelter: Plant evergreen shrubs and trees, build a brush pile or add a roost box to your yard.

Provide Liquid Water: Birds can melt snow to drink, but doing so uses energy needed to maintain body temperature.


1 Alvarsson, J. J., S. Wiens, and M. E. Nilsson. 2010. Stress recovery during exposure to nature sound and environmental noise. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 7, 3: 1036-1046.
2 Jahncke, H., Hygge, S., Halin, N., Green, A. M., & Dimberg, K. (2011). Open-plan office noise: Cognitive performance and restoration. Journal of Environmental Psychology 31: 373- 382.
3 Goel, N., & Etwaroo, G. M. (2006). Bright light, negative air ions and auditory stimuli produce rapid mood changes in a student population: A placebo-controlled study. Psychological Medicine 36: 1253-1263.
4 Ratcliffe, E., B. Gatersleben, and P.T. Sowden. 2013. Bird sounds and their contributions to perceived attention restoration and stress recovery. Journal of Environmental Psychology 36: 221-228.
5 Cocker, M. (2013). Birds & people. London: Vintage Publishing.