Bird diversity is linked to human happiness

Bird diversity is linked to human happiness

How to protect avian biodiversity and our well-being

Bird diversity is linked to human happiness

How to protect avian biodiversity and our well-being

By Emily Jerome, Digital Engagement Assistant, National Environmental Treasure

A recent study found that human happiness is linked to bird diversity. Learn how you can support birds in your community.

Are the early morning songs of black-capped chickadees a welcome sound? Does watching a flurry of happy finches and jays feasting on berries bring you joy? If your answer is yes, then it may come as no surprise that human happiness is now scientifically linked to our feathered neighbours.

The link between bird diversity and human happiness

Researchers at the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Center (SBiK-F), German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) and the University of Kiel, studied over 26,000 adults from 26 European countries and poured over the European Breeding Bird Atlas. The findings were nothing short of fascinating. “The happiest Europeans are those who can experience numerous different bird species in their daily life, or who live in near-natural surroundings that are home to many species,” said the study’s lead author, Joel Methorst.

cardinal on fence in forest
Nathan Anderson from Unsplash

The study presents two explanations for how higher bird diversity is linked to higher life satisfaction within humans. First, there is the multisensory experience of the bird community as their fluttering wings and vocalizations fill the air. Second, there’s the effect of living in a  landscape that supports this bird diversity, as well as human well-being. If you’re still looking for more reasons to love the quacks of mallard ducks and chatter of magpies, then perhaps this might do the trick. The researchers even suggest that a rich bird community may contribute to human happiness on a similar level as income.

Since the 1970’s, the beneficial effects of spending time in nature has been well researched. It’s come to light that nature increases cognitive function and decreases blood pressure, stress hormones and symptoms of anxiety and depression. But, this is the first time that biodiversity has been shown to improve human well-being on a continental scale. With all the mounting evidence, it is clear that protecting the natural world and its biodiversity, including birds, will  help us live healthy and happy lives.

great blue heron in wetland
Nancy Vlayen from Unsplash

The challenges facing birds and conservation solutions

Before we dive into conservation successes and how you can be a part of the solution, it’s important to note the struggles that bird populations have faced over the last 50 years.  A 2019 study published by Science Magazine found “a net loss approaching 3 billion birds, or 29% of 1970 abundance” globally. The North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) released a report on the state of Canada’s birds in 2019 that showed the staggering loss of shorebirds, grassland birds and aerial insectivores. But, it isn’t all bad news; waterfowl and birds of prey have seen an increase thanks to ongoing conservation efforts and wetland stewardship. The report repeatedly calls for the cleaning of waterways and oceans, increased conservation efforts and calls to action on mitigating climate change. After all, birds are excellent indicators of overall environmental health and which is why  recovery measures are so important.

In November 2020, the Federal government committed up to $631 million over the next decade towards protecting and restoring vital ecosystems. This renewed support for wetlands, grasslands and peatlands not only provides habitat for bird species, but reaffirms the importance of these landscapes as carbon stores and a natural defence against climate change. While this is exciting news, there is a program that has already been hard at work protecting Canadian bird diversity since 1996.

Person in forest
Helen Jankovicova Kovacova from Pexels/Canva

Throughout Canada, there are nearly 600 locations dedicated to safeguarding bird species and their vital habitats. The Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) program identifies sites that are home to large bird populations, threatened and/or endemic species. The champions of IBA’s are the local volunteer caretakers that participate in monitoring bird populations, collecting data and raising awareness of IBAs’ and bird conservation. But, this isn’t the only way you can be a watchdog for bird species.

Many Canadians decided to join the citizen scientist movement in 2020 in an effort to get outside and reconnect with nature during the pandemic. So much so, that the flora and fauna ID app, iNaturalist, reached a record 50 million observations as of September 2020. But, taking a photo and identifying a bird species on an ID-ing app isn’t just for fun. This information is actually being used for biodiversity research and monitoring on a global scale. Whether you embrace your inner scientist, get busy ID-ing birds on apps or simply appreciate these animated and resilient creatures in your backyard, giving back to our local birds is always a great idea. After all, they do make us happy.

How can you support birds in your community?

1. Find an IBA close to you using this interactive map and become a caretaker.

2. Be a citizen scientist by using the iNaturalist app and participate in citizen science projects with Cornell Lab and Birds Canada

3. Prevent birds strikes on your windows with these easy solutions and help save the lives of millions of birds per year

4. Separate pets from wildlife by keeping cats indoors. Domestic cats kill approximately 1 to 3 billion birds per year in the U.S alone.

5. Reduce your consumption of single-use plastics and support the banning of single-use plastics. Plastic pollution has a significant negative impact on bird populations.