A Pandemic for the Birds, with Seeds of Wisdom Abounding

August 21, 2020

By Sister Sheila Carney

A few years ago, a robin family made a home in the rafters of my porch. I was glad to share my space but, having moved in on me, they weren’t nearly so gracious in return. They actually expected me to vacate the premises until they were through with their laying and hatching and fledging season. Any movement I made in the vicinity of the porch was greeted with much flapping and screeching and other efforts to demonstrate their displeasure.

But when mama bird was away getting food, I had more freedom and enjoyed seeing little heads and beaks peeking over the side of the nest. One day, a chick fell out and landed with a thump on the porch. I though surely it would be hurt but, after assessing its situation for a while, it got up, wobbled around a little and then fell off the side. When I went to look, there it was, a few feet below, surrounded by encouraging and comforting grown-up birds who helped it on its way.

The robins came for two years and then moved to a different neighborhood. In an effort to welcome more bird friends, I bought a house for them, but it didn’t attract any buyers. Then, at the beginning of the pandemic, I moved on to bird seed with visions of cardinals and bluejays and other colorful species gracing my porch, offering companionship without the strictures of social distancing. I had barely put out the seed when birds started arriving: starlings—screechy, aggressive, possessive starlings with very poor bathroom habits. Any other visitors were rudely driven away, and my porch was a mess!

One day, in the midst of my clean-up routine, muttering to myself about how the starlings had moved in, hoarded the available resources and generally created havoc, I had this thought: “I wonder if that’s how Earth views us?” Does she “see” us as aggressive, possessive and messy in our Common Home? That question hounded me all through the first bag of bird seed. When the bag ran out, I bought a different mixture and, mirabile dictu, the starlings, not liking the new diet, left. They were replaced by a gentler lot—sparrows and mourning doves with their chicks, an occasional cardinal or jay and, just the other day, a hummingbird! This new flock still hurls seeds around a little, but they are much more respectful of one another’s needs, less screechy and much more tolerant of me. I’m allowed back out on the porch again. Another lesson: It took only a small change on my part—the selection of a new brand of seeds—to improve the environment measurably.

Now, when I sit outdoors with my feathered friends and say morning prayer, I include some reflection about the small change I might be able to make that day to exert a more positive impact on our Common Home and create a more welcoming, healthful, inclusive environment. This pandemic has definitely been for the birds, with seeds of wisdom abounding.

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  1. Sheila Harrington,RSM

    Sheila, what a delightful storyteller you are…your reflection adds a gentle yet powerful lesson to ponder and integrate into my life. Thank you.

  2. Lorraine Conway

    A charming story teaching us we are still always learning from nature.

  3. Cecelia Ferland

    Thank you Sheila for sharing this descriptive, well written reflection. Nature is a marvelous teacher. We need only to be aware!

  4. Jeanne O'Rourke, RSM

    Thank you, Sheila, for sharing this reflective lesson learned through observation of nature and for nature.

  5. Jeannine Burch

    Sr Shelia, thank you for your insightful reflection on the birds. I have had two bird feeders on my balcony which I see from my prayer chair each morning for 15 years. We are blessed with blue jays, purple finches, and doves every day. Most days we have at least one red headed woodpecker. They are the most entertaining and beautiful as they hang from their claws with the lower half of their bodies on the underside of the feeder apparently for balance. Our blue Jays are the most aggressive, but the doves can get pretty fierce when they can’t find a place to lite. I love the songs of each different species and thank God for their presence every day and my sweet husband who feeds them. The blue jays have the sweetest song, and I love the song of the cardinals when they are in town. Again, thank you for your insights. Hopefully I will be more reflective when I’m enjoying these beautiful creatures in the future!

  6. Pat Colla

    Loved your analogy, Sheila, and the lesson learned. Thank you.

  7. Deborah Troillett

    In my new pandemic life I have also become a kind of bird seed and suet supporter. Your wonderful wisdom will stay with me and enrich me daily as I do my little bit to care for them in our common home.
    Thank you so much!

  8. Sharon

    What an interesting way to look at things! I too am a person who loves to feed my birds in my yard. I am irritated by the mourning doves because they sit in my feeder and chase away other birds, like Cardinals, which are my favorite. Maybe I need to change my bird seed…..

  9. Janet Ruffing,rsm

    Lovely, reflection. Thank you.

  10. Mary Ann Clifford

    Thank you Sheila for the enjoyable story with an important message.What small thing can I change or do today to care for our earth and one another.

  11. Jackie Ann Moreau

    Great story with a good lesson! Thanks

  12. Janet Rozzano

    A delightful reflection, Sheila. It helps us/me to pay attention to the small things and not pass them off as unimportant or not worth doing.

  13. Carol

    I enjoyed your reflective question as to how Earth sees us humans and I enjoy feeding the birds & have the exact same problem with the starlings to my dismay. Wondering what change you made?? I need help!

  14. Rachelle Harper

    Sheila, ‘how’ I love your bird story. Such a great analogy! I have a ‘mall’ of feeders and experience a lot of what you describe. It does indeed make me reflect on us as a species and our present situation. I’m grateful for your reflection, ;and for you!

  15. Marian Uba

    Love this. Thank you Sheila!

  16. Richard Mary Burke

    Sheila, thank you so much for this simple, yet profound, reflection about our daily activities and their impact on all forms of creation! Blessings, Richard Mary

  17. Sabrina Robbins

    Hi Sister Sheila! Thanks so much for your story. I love the birds, as well. I am blessed to have regular visits from blue jays, robins, and both mourning doves and Eurasian collared doves.

    Thanks very much for sharing!

  18. Mary Bilderback, RSM

    Thank you, Sheila, for this charming piece.
    Starlings plural do seem a scourge, but to see one iridescent in the sun is magic.

  19. Jenny DeVivo

    Thank you, Sheila. Beautifully written, has some good giggles, and is thought provoking. I really enjoyed it.

  20. Dianne Tress

    You made my giggles flow this am.