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Birds are hard-wired to wander. While most of them exhibit territorial behavior, that is mostly limited to the breeding season. Non-migratory species typically roam about in search of food, often in flocks. Many migratory species exhibit a behavior prior to migrating called Zugunruhe, translated literally as migratory restlessness. Prior to migrating, some species experience physical changes preparing for long flights and some captive birds will flap their wings during the night or even fly repeatedly against walls in the direction they want to migrate.

Clearly a core part of the appeal of birding is the chase. If a trip into the field were like visiting the zoo and finding every bird clearly identified and still in the last place you saw it, where would the fun be? Birders know that birds are mostly in motion, a movement that is predictable only to an extent. Lining up the variables to predict time and location for finding migrating birds is akin to reading tea leaves, there is definitely a healthy dose of luck needed in addition to even the most well-honed skills. But of course the joy of surprise sightings is why birding can become so addicting.

Birding is most exciting during migration, primarily because the number of individual birds peaks during this time and it is the only time to see those species that are only passing through. It would be a mistake to believe that the nesting season would be the simplest time to see birds. Not only are birds masters of secrecy, the nesting season is shorter than you might think. What takes human children years to achieve, young birds achieve in weeks. Once fledging occurs, the advantage of a prime location becomes a liability. There is a reason for the expression “sitting duck.” Birds are naturally furtive, and then there’s Zugunruhe.

No doubt, on occasion we have all felt an urge to move. Perhaps it was similar to migratory restlessness, a sense that there is another place we ought to be. Or maybe it was just a simple case of wanderlust. Regardless, the feeling is that home may not be only the place (and time?) where we think it is. There is something sacred about avoiding being too settled, because the Holy Spirit is indeed a wild goose, so we need to be ready to take wing. Funny that Jesus described his homeless Zugunruhe to birds who have nests, which is perhaps the most temporary housing stock in the world. If we are to find this kindom of heaven that he spoke of we need to be ready to let go of our expectation of permanence and find our home on the journey.

Prayer: Restless Wanderer, stir us...and then guide us. Amen.


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