A Pandemic for the Birds, with Seeds of Wisdom Abounding

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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.