C4G78B Carrion Crow (Corvus corone), two on meadow showing courtship behaviour, Lower Saxony, Germany
Even a bird as humdrum as the crow reduces the risk of depression © Duncan Usher/Alamy

An apple a day may keep the doctor away but a bird could be just as helpful.

People who can see birds from their window each day, even those as humdrum as a crow, are less likely to suffer from depression and stress, say the authors of a study that has examined the mental health benefits of our feathered friends.

The paper goes further than past research that has shown spending time in green spaces is good for physical and mental wellbeing.

Instead, scientists tried to work out exactly what it is in nature that makes us feel better.

“We found people who live in areas with more birds tend to have better mental health,” said Daniel Cox, University of Exeter research fellow, who led the study.

Shrubs and trees also help, according to the research, which was based on surveys of more than 270 people in Milton Keynes, Bedford and Luton.

The links were still evident after scientists controlled for different levels of income, age, neighbourhood deprivation and other factors.

The findings are of more than passing interest given the economic costs of anxiety and mood disorders such as depression are estimated to be €187bn a year in Europe alone.

Alongside stress, these disorders are also among the most prevalent work-related health issues.

The peer-reviewed study, published in the journal Bioscience, suggests the benefits of spotting a bird exist no matter whether people live in leafy suburban neighbourhoods or the inner city.

Blue tits, crows, blackbirds and robins were all spotted by those taking part in the study. But the research did not reveal whether any particular species of bird was more cheering than another.

Nor did it seem to make any difference whether people could correctly identify different types of birds, a talent previous studies have shown is relatively scarce.

Rather, the simple sight of a bird or a bush is what helps to ward off the blues.

Mr Cox said it was not well understood precisely why this was so, but it has been suggested that people in urban environments increasingly suffer from “attention fatigue” and staring at the natural world “allows you to unwind and feel less stressed”.

TV and radio stations and websites are devoting more time to “slow” content, such as a crackling fire or birdsong.

But Mr Cox said there was probably a limit to the enjoyment that a pigeon or seagull could deliver.

“People like seeing species of birds but they don’t like it when these species engage in negative behaviour, like pooing on your car or waking you up in the morning,” he said. “When a bird steals your pasty it’s not very relaxing.”

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