Measuring the joy that birds bring us

A recently published scientific study looked at the effect of counting garden bird species on well-being and positive emotions.

Recently I posted the results of a scientific study which concluded that walking in nature can reduce our need for medication, specifically against asthma, high blood pressure, anxiety and depression.

Here I want to share with you some research that “digs deeper” into the positive benefits of nature on our health and well-being. Specifically, research has been conducted to relate the exercise of counting birds to the joy that birds brings to the observer. You can read the full paper here. It was only published this week.

This particular study isn’t a large one, as it involved just 156 people. It’s called an “exploratory study”, which means that it’s the start of further research and needs verifying in a larger population.


Before the project started – and after it ended – all participants filled out a survey in which they recorded their feelings of well-being, anxiety and connection to nature.

The participants were then randomly allocated to one of two groups. The first group (the ‘Count’ group) were asked to watch the birds in their garden for thirty minutes, identify each species and count how many individual birds of each species visited. This is similar to the national bird surveys that I regular promote on my blogs, and which coincidentally are taking place this weekend (28-29 January, 2023).

The second group (the ‘Joy’ group) also watched and identified birds in their garden, but instead of counting them they were asked to rate their feelings of joy on seeing each species.


After observing the birds in their gardens, participants in both groups recorded improved well-being, decreased anxiety, and stronger connection to nature. Most notably, the decrease in anxiety was greatest for those in the ‘Joy’ group whose anxiety levels dropped by over 20%.

This study points to a definite positive impact of watching birds and suggests that activating a sense of joy heightens the benefits further. In other words, watching birds brings joy!


The researchers concluded that this small study offers evidence for the psychological benefits of watching birds. They suggest that taking part in citizen science projects like Garden or Backyard Bird Counts can bring about enhanced well-being. Even greater reductions in anxiety levels – and increased positive emotions such as joy – are gained by paying attention to your emotions experienced while watching birds.

To be honest, I am not surprised at all by these results. Nor, probably, is anyone who glances even momentarily out of the window to watch the birds in their garden or on their balcony. I’ve been watching birds for over 50 years, and never cease to be amazed at the joy they bring. And when I spot an unusual bird or a new one for my list, this expands into a real thrill!

Nature is a great healer and joy-bringer. The more time we spend connecting to nature, the better for us, and for nature.

In a future post I will cover the birds that the study participants found most (and least!) joyous!

Main photo by jLasWilson from Pixabay


  1. We certainly enjoy seeing the birds which visit our garden, including green parrots, pale headed rosellas and magpies. The cutest are a pair of honeyeaters. They are tiny little creatures but they have very loud voices and chatter away to each other.


  2. It keeps me sane some days, and I really mean that. Can feel myself spiralling and then I suddenly notice a bird out of the window and immediately I can feel a calming especially if it is something I have not seen for a day or two. And when outside the sound of the birds must be one of the best sounds ever

    Liked by 1 person

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