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What Really Matters

There are no limits to the grace of God, who will make sure you will always have enough of everything and even a surplus for good works, as scripture says: “God scattered abroad and gave to poor people; God’s justice endures forever.” ~ 2 Corinthians 9:8-9

Like all wrens, Carolina Wrens have a voice much larger than their size. Other wrens tend to sing long, trilling, musical songs, but Carolina Wrens blast a loud but lovely “teakettle, teakettle, teakettle!” This makes them one of the easier wrens to spot, not to mention their relatively large size for a wren and their warm brown color that helps them stand out. I first heard one in 1990 during the Massachusetts Audubon Bird-A-Thon. I begged the group to wait until I could see it because at the time I was still under the impression that a bird couldn’t be listed solely as an audible. A Carolina Wren in Massachusetts thirty years ago was a pretty big deal. There were only a handful of sightings each year. Within the next decade, they became uncommon, but regular on trip lists throughout the state and the first regular sightings began in southern Maine. In the next decade, there was a first report from Waterville and they began to be reported in Canada. Today, they can be found in every community in Massachusetts with a bit of persistence and patience and the only locations in Maine where they cause a stir are the far northern sections.

It is tempting to say that this northward march is a result of the bird’s adorableness, which is not far from the truth. The early reports were often of overwintering birds feeding on suet. There is no doubt that humans have aided the Carolina Wren in their range expansion. They have discovered what mattered to them in new places, and we have found joy in that. The trouble with discovering what matters on a small scale sometimes comes at the cost on the large scale. Those same suet feeders have during this same time period helped Red-bellied Woodpeckers to expand their range northward. Their pretty red heads and flashy behavior have also brought humans joy. Hairy Woodpeckers wouldn’t share that perspective. While more research is needed, at least anecdotal evidence points to a decline in Hairy Woodpecker populations that matches the increase in Red-bellied Woodpecker numbers. In the big picture, what matters most is a complicated issue.

At the same time that we are thankful for the beauty around us and our ability to increase it, we need to consider the causes, costs, and consequences. It is good to marvel at the exceptional adaptability of creatures around us, while also acknowledging that our behavior has forced a lot of their behavior. And sometimes, even what we see as spreading kindness, like feeding birds, can have unintended consequences. So let us continue, no increase, our compassion, but let us also make sure that we do so with a view that is outside our own little worlds.

Prayer: Holy Weaver, help us step back enough to perceive the whole of your exquisite tapestry, remembering that we are each only a single thread in it. Amen.


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