For the birds

The Washington Post is claiming that listening to bird songs is good for you.

Looking to improve your mental health? Pay attention to birds.

Two studies published last year in Scientific Reports said that seeing or hearing birds could be good for our mental well-being.

So give them a listen as you learn why they may help.

Research has consistently shown that more contact and interaction with nature are associated with better body and brain health.

Birds appear to be a specific source of these healing benefits. They are almost everywhere and provide a way to connect us to nature. And even if they are hidden in trees or in the underbrush, we can still revel in their songs.

OK, fine, I will believe that going on regular walks in the park, paying attention to your environment, and living in a place compatible with other living things, is beneficial. I object to the idea that the effect is specific to birds. Why not spiders? A stroll in the park and checking out the trees and underbrush is something you can do while spidering, too.

You aren’t going to hear spider songs unless you have much better ears than I’ve got, but on the plus side, spiders don’t start shrieking and screeching and whistling outside your bedroom window at 5am.


  1. Matt G says

    Yeah, but have you ever parked your car under a spider web and then had to clean spider poop off your windshield?

  2. cgilder says

    I first started learning to identify bird calls by looking up the ones that woke me up at 4am (Robins are SO LOUD in the morning.)

  3. silvrhalide says

    You aren’t going to hear spider songs unless you have much better ears than I’ve got, but on the plus side, spiders don’t start shrieking and screeching and whistling outside your bedroom window at 5am.

    Well, how would you know if the spiders were screeching and whistling outside your window? They are beyond the normal human auditory range. For all you know, they could be carrying on like Led Zeppelin trashing yet another hotel room.

    Also, when spider drumming is slowed down enough to be audible to human ears, it produces sounds that only Trent Reznor could love. Phil Collins they are not.

  4. silvrhalide says

    Also, I will gladly take the 5am birdsong over the drumming that the goddamn WOODPECKER starts up with the minute it gets light out.

  5. mordred says

    Some years ago waking up way to early, half asleep I wondered who of my house mates owned that damn cuckoo clock. And why was it so loud through the wall?

    I normally don’t wake up from bird calls, but so far I never had a cuckoo calling directly under my bedroom window!

  6. robro says

    Sing with the birds at dawn, sing with the birds at dusk

    Actually, the article almost hits on an important aspect of bird song: it’s one of the best ways to identify birds since they are often hidden…that is if you want to identify the birds. Right now I’m sitting at my desk and listening to a California quail calling to the covey. It’s probably a male sitting on top of a fence nearby signaling to the others that it’s safe. There’s also a jay going on outside my window, and I think a titmouse or bushtit chortling away. Learning the songs and calls is challenging because a particular species might make several different sounds.

  7. hemidactylus says

    I doubt the racket peacocks make when infesting a neighborhood is good for your mental health nor a neighbor’s rooster.

  8. Matthew Currie says

    Birds at dawn, birds at dusk, and Messaien after dark?
    It’s probably spurious anthropomorphising, but I wonder sometimes if the world would be a better place if we could respond to it as a wren does.

  9. Larry says

    The song of a bird can be as potent of a memory recall device as a particular odor. For me, the descending trill of a canyon wren is so evocative of southwestern canyon country that I’m immediately transported to a raft trip down the Colorado or a hike in Canyonlands. I love that sound so much, I don’t care if I hear it at 5 in the morning or the afternoon.

  10. says

    I got pretty seriously into birds in the late 90s, when the city of Eugene restored a large area of wetlands across the street from my workplace. Over the next few years I identified 70 different species.
    The Redwing blackbirds were particularly interesting, their calls being unique enough to identify individuals returning from year to year. I gave them names based on their little songs–Roto Rooter, Three’s Company, and Horror Movie being three of my favorites.
    And then one day I was riding on the bike path and heard a bird that I could not see actually tell me what he was. “Bob…White? Bob…White?” They’re not native to this area, and I was not familiar with them, but I knew instantly.
    I mean, I like spiders and all, but between the songs and some of the gorgeous colors (particularly memorable were the Lazuli Bunting and the Cinnamon Teal) I think I prefer birds. Although most of them, like cute animals everywhere, are total jerks.
    I once risked life and limb to refill a hummingbird feeder during a snowstorm, and the little turds were fighting over it within seconds.
    And I would do it again.

  11. Doc Bill says

    “Merlin,” an app from Cornell bird people, is brilliant at identifying bird song. Hear a peep peep? Whip out Merlin and discover it’s a Transylvanian Purple Spotted Whatzis Thingie.

    It can even identify Mockingbirds doing a Cardinal impression. Two talons up!

  12. René says

    My favourite sound of nature is the sound of trees growing. I haven’t heard it for ages. My tinnitus overstems it.

  13. Rob Grigjanis says

    feralboy12 @12:

    Although most of them, like cute animals everywhere, are total jerks.

    Maybe most. In the non-jerk category, I’d put robins (the North American ones), swallows and mourning doves. Top of the local avian ahole list (IMO); house sparrows.

  14. Snidely W says

    The most common ‘translation’ of bird songs is essentially something like:
    -“Hey you m-fers, I’m still here, and, I can STILL kick your ass!”
    -“You come anywhere near here, I’m going to kick your ass!”
    That’s the boys.
    The girls are largely silent, but their reactions are something like:
    -“Ooh, I like the shit-talk of THAT one!”

    Bird song is so romantic.

  15. birgerjohansson says

    During the lockdown, it became obvious that having green places where you could walk was good for mental health.
    We did not have total lockdowns in Sweden. So our urban planners are cheerfully exploiting the last green refugia.

  16. birgerjohansson says

    The order in which birds start singing in the morning is a measure of their low-light eyesight.
    They don’t want to lead predators to them unless it is bright enough for them to spot the danger.
    The earliest singers have the best ability to see in poor light.

  17. birgerjohansson says

    PZ :
    “at 5 AM”
    In summer the sun rises at 02.30.
    The magpie young start scheeching earlier than that.

  18. birgerjohansson says

    Woodpeckers target larvae under the bark, so they do more good than songbirds.

  19. says

    We don’t mind an occasional raven or dove call. But, a neighbor has a bird in a cage they leave outside that LOUDLY mimics all the obnoxious noises of ‘artificial life’: microwave beeps, phone ring tones, etc. It causes anxiety in many of us and is so loud it can’t be ignored. Also, the seeds flung from its cage are quite likely what is attracting javelina and rats that eat our vegetable garden plants and those of our neighbor; who has video (in 8 yrs here, never had this problem before). This is a ‘natural disaster’. Garden spiders have never caused these problems.

  20. stuffin says

    Anyone ever here the laughing gulls sing (screech) over a discarded McDonald’s French Fry?

  21. drsteve says

    Are there any spider apps IDing based on morphology, coloring, web, habitat? Seems like there would be a good design niche there for furthering spider education. . .

  22. Walter Solomon says

    More like 4:15 AM there’s a cacophony of tweets that sound like they’re done right next to my head. Reddit tells me these are probably mockingbirds since its done well before the sunrise.

  23. silvrhalide says

    @9, 22 The woodpecker isn’t drumming on trees. No, the insomniac little motherfucker is drumming on the building. It’s something they do to attract mates and more importantly, establish a territory. Birdsong I like. My cellphone alarm is birdsong recordings. The little asshole drumming on the building makes the entire side of the building a percussive instrument. No sleeping through that.
    If I wanted to listen to perpetually drumming adolescents, I would have had one of my own.

    I don’t mind roosters, who don’t just crow at dawn, they do it pretty much all day long but peacocks sound like someone being axe-murdered. They are pretty to look at, not so pretty to listen to.

    @27 Mockingbirds sing all night long. The American nightingale. They’re some of my favorites. AND THEY DON’T DRUM.

  24. birgerjohansson says

    Today was Ascension Day in Sweden, a holiday going back to the Catholic era.
    We thus had plenty of leisure to go out and listen to birds, I even made sure the local pigeons would have food.

    It is also the traditional “release the cows day ” when the cows finally get to go out on the pasture grounds. They go batshit crazy with joy the first day, it is popular to watch them getting released.

    In one of the apochrypal gospels the ascension was like this: Jesus was enlarged kaiju-style until he was at a level with the clouds, after which he faded and became invisible.
    But I still think a pyramid would have been cooler.

  25. woodsong says

    silvrhalide @28,

    If you want the woodpeckers to leave your house alone, try hanging one of these near where they’re pounding:


    I haven’t tried it myself, but I’ve heard that it’s effective! We had one in our living room (still do, but it needs new batteries), and they can be startling when there’s a loud noise. Considering that it’s an imitation spider big enough to eat most woodpeckers (and I’m not so sure about the Pileated given the size of some prey items PZ feeds his colony!), the bird should leave in a hurry!

    Good luck!

    (Yes, the link is Amazon. I’m sure there are other sources if you look around, and other models/companies (mine doesn’t have LED eyes, for one difference). I’m recommending the concept, not a specific item.)

  26. says

    @32 woodsong and @28 silvrhalide said: try hanging one of these near where they’re pounding: Sunstar-Industries-Dropping-Black-Spider
    I reply: Decades ago I remember in L.A. southbay there was a restaurant called the Bay ’90s and they had large fake spiders hanging from strings way up high near the ceiling. The bartenders could take the other end of those strings, let them out and the spider would descend to near the table top of the people dining. Some laughed, some screamed.
    @31 birgerjohansson said: It is also the traditional “release the cows day ”
    I ask: so when is ‘release the kraakan day?’

  27. Rich Woods says

    I’m a night owl but the dinosaur dawn chorus gets a mixed reception from me.

  28. hemidactylus says

    @35- Rich Woods
    Just think if dinosaurs had all gone extinct.

    Unrelated…I have started Larry Moran’s What’s in Your Genome. I assign summering PZ a book report on the Waldorf muppet’s new publication.

  29. StevoR says

    @1. Matt G : “Yeah, but have you ever parked your car under a spider web and then had to clean spider poop off your windshield?”

    Might be wrong but isn’t spider “poop” actually called spider frass or is that just for insects?

  30. Matthew Currie says

    Responding to Rob G above, I seem to recall that house sparrows, along with starlings, are the only songbirds it’s legal around here to shoot. They’re both invasive. It’s rare these days to see a chipping sparrow, which used to be common.
    On the “good guys” list, I would add bluebirds. They really are fun to watch. We have a nest in birdhouse behind the house, and have been watching the busy parents feeding their brood. They’re just about to fledge. One keeps sticking way out of the box, as if he’s about to take off, but never quite does. Any day now..

    We used to have an apple tree, which fell down and is now replaced by a pole with a couple of bird houses. For many years bluebirds would nest there or nearby, and in fall, just before migrating, they’d all gather there, as if to say good bye for the season.