August 5, 2016 | by The Polyclinic
mystery shorebirds

Photo by Mike Hamilton

When it comes to living a healthy life, there are two things that might not immediately jump to mind: mindfulness and time in nature.

Mindfulness is a practice of non-judgmental, present-moment awareness. Mindfulness practice can be meditation or mindful eating, but did you know you can practice mindfulness anywhere including while exploring nature? Mindful thinking combined with outside time like observing wildlife or hiking can reduce stress levels and improve health.

Introducing birding -- the observation of birds in their natural spaces. To bird, you have to get outside. Practicing mindfulness while birding allows you to notice details, patterns and sounds.

Birding Skills Can Build Mindfulness Practice

“Birding is a form of relaxation that requires a technique of observation,” Dr. Cordova said. “You have to slow down, not rush. You listen and look, and you don’t need a lot of equipment.”

When you enter the offices of Dr. Marc Cordova, internal medicine physician at The Polyclinic Madison Center, you may notice photos of exotic birds on exam room walls.

When he travels, Dr. Cordova often integrates birding or bird watching as a trip activity. “Birding is a form of relaxation that requires a technique of observation,” he said. “You have to slow down, not rush. You listen and look, and you don’t need a lot of equipment. You are doing something every day that brings a whole new awareness of what’s around you.”

A Zoology Major Turned Birder, Physician

Dr. Cordova birding

Dr. Cordova enjoys birding for a form of relaxation and physical activity.

Dr. Cordova didn't start birding purposefully putting birding and mindfulness in the same category. He started birding as a zoology major in college. As he ventured to birding habitats, he began to slow down and pay attention to nature and engage with his surroundings.

Now birding gives his other outdoor activities greater purpose and fun, adding sensory details that create memorable experiences. “It’s a form of relaxation that also dovetails nicely with physical activity like hiking and backpacking,” he said.

How to Start Birding

Use these suggested tips to enjoy the benefits of birding and mindfulness outside:

  • Go solo or with friends. Place bird feeders in your yard or join a locally-guided bird walk. Try: Dr. Cordova recommends Seattle Audubon, which offers resources such as free family walks, field trips, and a nature shop with birding essentials.
  • Learn bird song. Birds have distinct vocalizations. Learning their unique melodies helps identify the bird you are hearing. Try: The BirdNote daily radio program at 8:56 a.m. on 88.5 KNKX is a favorite of Dr. Cordova’s.
  • Plan travel itineraries with birding in mind. Consider adding birding as a destination activity. Dr. Cordova and his wife integrated birding when visiting the Southern Cone of South America. In addition to city sights of Buenos Aires and wineries in Chile, they joined fellow KPLU / Earthbound Expeditions travelers in birding. The highlight? Seeing the aptly named Torrent Duck, which swims up current in bitterly cold mountain rapids. Try: Start local. “Really, you can bird anywhere,” said Dr. Cordova. Seattle area recommendations include Union Bay Natural Area, Marymoor Park and Discovery Park for local options with a variety of species and habitats.

Birding is an activity like mindfulness that prompts you to think outside yourself and use all your senses to gain awareness of your surroundings. Whether that attentiveness to detail is birdsong or a bird on the wing, birding can bring a slower pace and grace to everyday life.