For many of us, the daily grind can be stressful, leaving us feeling exhausted and even anxious. While it’s tempting to shut the blinds and hide inside in your favourite PJs, a new study offers a surprising alternative: bird watching.

Whether you hike out into the wilderness with boots and binoculars or simply gaze out your office window and admire the view, you’re better off with birds. The study – a collaboration between English and Australian academics – reveals a positive association between bird watching and better mental health.

After surveying the mental health of 270 people of a variety of ages, ethnicities and incomes, researchers found that participants who lived with views of more birds, trees, shrubs were more likely to experience lower levels of depression. Surveys were conducted in Milton Keynes, Luton and Bedford by researchers from the University of Exeter, the British Trust for Ornithology and the University of Queensland. The study also shows that those who spend more time indoors than outdoors are more likely to report feelings of depression and anxiety.

Hummingbird feeding on garden flowers

Image: Hummingbird feeding on garden flowers (CC)

While the most common birds sighted by participants were robins, blackbirds, blue tits and crows, there was no significant relationship between the species of bird and the effect of uplifting the individual. However, the more birds seen in the afternoon, the less stressed people felt.

Many studies have suggested visiting or observing natural spaces as a way of dealing with symptoms of mental illness and general stress and anxiety. For instance, Stanford researchers have suggested that taking a walk in a natural space such as a wooded area or park lowers feelings of depression.

The real take-away from this study is that spending time near abundant birdlife, and the greenery that attracts our feathered friends, can be a stitch in time. “Birds around the home, and nature, in general, show great promise in preventative health care, making cities healthier, happier places to live,” explains researcher Dr Daniel Cox of Exeter University.

So, whether we gaze out from the office window, or take a walk through our local park, bird watching might just be the answer to leading a healthier and happier life.