Dirty Smelly Medicine


In reply, the vine dresser said, ‘Please leave it one more year while I hoe around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine; if not, then let it be cut down.’ ~ Luke 13:9

Living in the wild means that birds are exposed to, well, other wild things. This often includes tiny parasites that can become a significant nuisance. Perhaps the most problematic parasites are those that inhibit proper feather development and health. By definition, birds are feathered, they are critical to their wellness. So infestations must be dealt with. But what medicine can be found in the wild? One of the most popular avian home remedies is dirt. Yes, taking an oxymoronically named “dust bath” is a common method for defeating the tiny critters. Perhaps you’ve seen a bird (or birds, some species seem to be very social about it) hunkering down in a dusty spot and shaking to stir up a cloud. They will spread their wings and stretch to maximize the dirt getting in between the feathers. It’s the sort of fun a toddler might enjoy.

But sometimes the call is for stronger medicine. Formic acid is a great way to defeat parasites, but where is a bird to get its bill on some? Ants, of course. When threatened, many species of ants will emit formic acid as a defense. A truly odd behavior seen in some bird species is “anting.” Starlings might do it actively, grabbing ants and rubbing them on themselves. Flickers can be seen doing it more passively, stretching their wings and tails to the ground and waiting for the ants to come crawling. This has the added benefit of providing a meal with free delivery.

So many things can be medicine and so much medicine is easily overlooked (antibiotics from mold, really?) or rejected as outrageous (most medication is technically a small dose of a poison directed at the disease). In fact, a large part of our suffering is self-inflicted because we choose illness over health. Impatience, expecting quick fixes, desiring our best life NOW, is at the heart of so much that is unhealthy in our lives. The cure is literally the antidote, patience. Often, just waiting and allowing time to heal is the cure that we need. Sure, sometimes we need to add some unsavory medicine, like the smelly manure in this this story. And sometimes we find medicine in the most unusual of places, like an anthill.

Prayer: Great healer, meet our desire to be well with the medicine we need to take, even if that means patiently swallowing a hard pill. Amen.

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