“Truly I tell you, whenever you did it to the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” — Matthew 25:40b
Backyard birders all across Maine at the moment have a common lament, “where did my birds go?” Every year in late summer, early fall, there is a gap in the birds coming to feeders. Migration means that the birds that have been residents head south and are replaced by birds coming from the north. Sometimes the first American Tree Sparrow makes an appearance while Chipping Sparrows are still around. Sometimes there are days or weeks between the departure of one species and the arrival of another. Couple that with a bumper crop of naturally occurring food sources, like, say, after a particularly wet summer, and the motivation to come to your feeder and be your bird is greatly reduced.
At the heart of the disappointment is a clash of ideologies. Humans offering food tend to have a transactional outlook, “if you feed them they will come.” The trade off for free food is presenting yourself in a location preferred by the humans, even if it means being more vulnerable to predators. Birds, on the other hand (or wing?) function from reciprocity. In gratitude for your gift of nourishment, they respond by, well, just being a healthy bird, doing bird things, contributing their gifts to the great web of belonging. Now, one of those gifts is their beauty and you are likely enough to experience it, just perhaps not in the easy comfort of the arrangements you made to sip coffee while viewing your feeder.
Wanting to keep your experience of the world somewhat ordered and possibly controlled is a natural desire. And how is that working for you? The truth is that entire world is wild. Both humans and other-than-humans are beyond your control, each attempting to live in the ways that work best for them. The real question for each of us is how wide is the world we create for ourselves? If we want to experience the other, whether a colorful, feathered friend or a suspicious, marginalized stranger, we need to be willing to reorder our own little worlds.
Prayer: Rainbow-maker, help me increase the population of my little world beyond one. Amen.