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Why are we so cuckoo about birds?

November 22, 2023
Charlotte Bartleet-Cross

Why are we so cuckoo about birds?

For all of us here at SongBird Survival, and probably most of you reading this, we think birds are fantastic. They are beautiful, graceful, and they charm us with their whimsical ways and melodious song. They are symbols of freedom and of innocence, and they connect us to nature wherever we are. But why are we so drawn to birds? A recent paper in Nature Biodiversity answers just that.

Humans love and affinity for birds spans hundreds of years, with birds immortalized in art and literature, tales told in folklore, and our dependence on them for all the amazing things they do in our ecosystems. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, it has become even more obvious that birds are an essential part of people feeling connected to nature and wildlife, in times where everything felt bleak and disconnected. A citizen science study aimed to understand why humans are so drawn to birds and which birds we are most drawn to.

The team used an app called ‘I rate birds’ available in over 21 languages and asked the public to rate bird species that were given randomly. Over 6000 people took part an rated these birds on a scale of attractiveness. The study found that humans prefer red and blue coloured species, and preferred multi-coloured species to black/white or duller colours. Species which have longer tails or crests also elicit positive reactions and are deemed as ‘attractive’. It seems we prefer birds with ‘stand out’ features, which supports a lot of previous research, showing that humans love things they perceive as ‘rare’ traits, and are therefore more valuable. This may also be a preference in bird species as they are likely the more memorable species, and easier to identify then many of the little brown jobbies (as much as we love them!) we have in the UK.

Small species were also found to be deemed more attractive; this is probably due to the ‘cuteness’ factor that humans experience with a lot of smaller species. It may be we perceive these species to be younger, similar to why we tend to ‘ooo’ and ‘aaa’ at puppies, kittens and babies.

These results make perfect sense as to why our lovely robin was voted the UKs favourite bird, with its red breast and tiny size, along with its loud and noisy presence. It is the winning combination here in the UK! To read more on the subject, please visit the Nature website to read ‘What drives our aesthetic attraction to birds?’


Santangeli, A., Haukka, A., Morris, W. et al. (2023) What drives our aesthetic attraction attraction to birds? NPJ Biodiversity, 2, 20.

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