One of nature’s “feathered miracles,” a hummingbird, gathers nectar from a flower. CNS photo/Octavio Duran

Angela Saldanha: On wings and a prayer, birds delight the soul

By  Angela Saldanha
  • May 9, 2020

Thomas Merton said that trees give glory to God just by being trees. I imagine the same holds true for birds.

When God created the world, not only did He fill the Earth, and the waters, with beasts of every kind, He filled the air with birds! Yes, I know they are supposed to have evolved from dinosaurs. But God masterminded every step of the process.

Think of the sheer delight, the fun He must have had, designing all those creatures with their unbelievable variety of form and colour and behaviour. Feathered miracles.

Birds, in many ways, exemplify good Christian behaviour. From taking care of their families, to helping each other in times of danger, helping the environment, providing good, family entertainment, having an attitude of gratitude. Even listening to sermons (when delivered by St. Francis). 

They sometimes serve as God’s messengers and have been known to bring comfort to men in prisons. The canary in the coal mine warns of impending danger. And loses its own life.

Birds know how to give thanks. I’m sure their morning song is one of praise to their Creator; their evensong, one of thanksgiving. They not only thank God, but their human benefactors, too.

Often when I’m in the garden, a hummingbird will circle round my head. I like to think it’s showing its appreciation for the nectar I provide. (Or it could be a reminder: feeder needs refilling!)

Birds are trusting. As Jesus pointed out, they neither sow nor reap, but their heavenly Father feeds them. 

On a shelf outside our front door stands a little statue of Our Lady of Medjugorje, with a tiny vase of flowers. Once, after a week’s absence, I was replacing them with fresh picked yellow pansies, when a hummingbird, who’d been humming around, flew right up to me, so close to my face I thought he was about to kiss me. He stayed, hovering, for several moments, before returning to his delphiniums. 

My daughter suggested the bird may have been sent by Our Lady to say thanks for fresh flowers. Maybe. Who knows?

While some birds are polygamous, numerous species are monogamous. Truly so; one cock, one hen (to the exclusion of all others) remaining faithful for life. Stories abound of bird couples who, if one spouse is injured, unable to forage, it will be fed by its mate. I’m convinced that some of the elaborate courtship rituals include (in bird-speak) “For better, for worse, in sickness, in health, till death do us part.”

Birds display patience, sitting on eggs for hours on end, then feeding babies nonstop. They are fiercely protective, valiantly attacking any would-be marauders. When an enemy approaches, birds of different species will unite to drive it away. 

I’ve often been amused by the spectacle of several small birds joining forces to chase away a thieving magpie or crow. United against the common foe —  Christians could learn a lesson there!

Birds raise good, obedient children. Fledglings in the nest, chirping noisily, cease their racket immediately when, on the approach of humans, Mother bird squawks a command to lie down and shut up. Goslings swim in a perfectly straight line, dutifully following instructions honked by Father and Mother Goose.

Birds help care for the environment. The doves in my garden make it their business to clean up the lawn under the bird feeders. Finches drop stuff while they’re eating; doves painstakingly pick up every fallen seed (potential weed). Like gulls at picnics, they act as the clean up squad. But they also help with pollination, spreading seeds around, helping to keep the Earth green. 

Crows dispose of roadside kill, devouring animal carcasses, victims of speeding motorists. Bats do their bit for disease prevention by eating hundreds of bugs, like mosquitoes, every night. And they devour messy spiders (bug eaters too, but deplorably messy.)

And on top of having all these admirable Christian traits, birds are just sheer delight to the eye and the ear. Truly a gift of God. Amusing us with their antics, amazing us with their skills, offering us lessons in trust, patience, fidelity, moral behaviour, care of the Earth.

Bird photographer Jonathan Franzen, speaking of the importance of birds in the world, remarked: “It’s not just what they do for the environment, it’s what they do to our souls.’’

Amen to that.

(Saldanha is a writer who lives in Ramara, Ont.)

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