The reasons birds sing is to declare or defend a territory and to attract a mate as part of courtship. They don’t sing because they are happy, although some philosopher and nature guru types might disaagree. Singing attracts attention, which is fine if you want to declare that you are the owner of a particular piece of property or attract a female. Singing also lets predators know where you are, but it’s a tradeoff – a bird has to put itself in a little danger in order to raise a family. A bird singing for fun just exposes itself to predators for a little self-indulgence but to no advantage. Evolution doesn’t work that way. Unless the behavior is beneficial, it won’t continue to exist; natural selection will see to that.
If a bird sings because it is happy, how come that mainly happens around the mating season and not the rest of the year? And why is it that mainly males sing? Wouldn’t the females sing as well? It’s nice to think that some attractive bird singing a gorgeous song from a treetop on a bright, cheery day is happy, it just ain’t so. He’s just doing what he needs to do to propagate his species. But he makes us happy.
A new piece of research from a California Polytechnic State University team reports that hikers exposed to birdsongs reported higher levels of psychological restorative efforts (they became more relaxed) compared to those that did not hear the birdsongs. The researchers played recordings of a bird chorus to hikers on one trail and not to hikers on another. The hikers hearing the recorded birdsongs reported having a more calming experience, supporting previous research demonstrating the link between biodiversity and a perceived sense of well-being.
The study reports “Because an emotional affinity towards nature has been shown to motivate conservation-oriented behaviors managing noise in parks has the potential to create a feedback loop where increased biodiversity improves visitors’ experiences, improves their well-being, and increases their emotional affinity towards nature, thereby motivating actions that will further benefit biodiversity. Further supporting this idea, other researchers found that birdwatching is linked to pro-environmental behaviors (recycling, donating to environmental causes, etc.) both directly and indirectly by strengthening participants’ attachment to a place. Place attachment, or the positive emotional connection that a person has with a particular environment, is influenced by a variety of factors, which in a natural setting can include things such as scenery, peacefulness or wildlife. This study demonstrates the importance of natural sounds to having positive experiences in nature, which may further motivate pro-conservation behaviors. As the world’s population grows and natural areas become increasingly fragmented and impacted by noise, preserving acoustic resources will be important for both biodiversity and human well-being.”
Not all birds produce the same results. Those that hoot, squawk, or scream are unhelpful, although perceptions vary between individuals. But a recent study in the U.S. shows that we typically spend 87% of our time inside a building and 6% in an automobile, so I would think we’d appreciate any kind of bird noise when we do get outside.