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Need a Happiness Boost? Listen for the Birds

Hearing birdsong is a reminder that we’re not alone in the great outdoors—or in life.

A singing bird
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Possibly the most helpful, enjoyable, and joy-bringing app I’ve added to my phone lately is Merlin, a free bird identification program created by the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology.

There are many features the app offers, including identifying birds by photo and creating a “life list” of birds you’ve spotted or heard on your travels. 

But my favorite is the birdsong listening feature, where you can turn on your phone’s microphone and learn what tweets, squeaks, caws and chirps are all around you. Sitting in my backyard, I never cease to be pleasantly surprised to encounter far more birds than I thought were in my immediate vicinity. I also enjoy hearing different calls show up as the same species, evidence that the birds in my neighborhood are communicating with each other.

The sense of calm, well-being and pleasure that I feel when I’m hearing birdsong is supported by research. One study found that being in the presence of birdsong had a measurable positive impact on a person’s mood, an effect that lasted several hours after heading indoors or away from the bird-full area.

Another study looked at 26,000 individuals in 26 European countries and found demonstrably higher life-satisfaction among those who lived near diverse bird habitats. A fascinating finding was that seeing 10 percent more bird species generated similar satisfaction to comparable increase in income.

This fall, when you head outdoors to run errands, take a walk or go for a hike, listen for the birds that share your space. Perhaps you can be inspired by this Chinese proverb: “Keep a green tree in your heart, and perhaps a singing bird will come.”

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