May 14, 2008

Birding and Life Lists

2008 1514 page30 cap am what is known in birding circles as a “twitcher”—I keep a life list and a running total of birds I have seen. I can spend long stretches of time (if the bird sits still long enough) alternately peering through binoculars and poring over field guides trying to identify a “little brown job”—much to the frustration of those around me. I get very excited when I can at last confidently add a new species to my list. The height of disappointment is to discover that what was tantalizingly flitting around just out of sight is some common species that I have already seen before.
I also like to feed birds in my garden. Each year sees a new type of feeder and food added. It takes much self-control to walk past the aisle in the hardware store that has every new type of feeder. I feel rewarded every time a new winged miracle is attracted to the seed, suet, sugar water, or fruit I put out.
I also enjoy watching the regular visitors, and I have my favorites—the junco that braves the worst snow and darts away with a flash of white in the tail feathers, the cardinal that appears to kiss his mate when he feeds her a seed in the spring, the wren that quietly flits between the old logs, the chickadee that grabs a single favorite sunflower seed from the feeder and then retires to a branch to hold it between her feet while pecking out every last bit of flesh, the goldfinch that so nimbly feeds while hanging upside down, and the . . . well, I suppose I have a lot of favorites!
2008 1514 page30I don’t enjoy, however, the number of “common” birds that come and gobble up the special menu. Also, I’ve seen starlings taking over a newly drilled woodpecker hole. Cowbirds cluster around the feeder, and I don’t like to think what mischief they are causing in the other birds’ nests. The house sparrow comes in flocks, and they flutter and fight among themselves and with most other visitors. I really should not despise them as they are known to have “learned to open automatic doors to grocery stores, cafes, and other sources of food by hovering in front of the electric eye sensors.”* By being so adaptable they have become the most ubiquitous bird in the world and one of the most plentiful. But they compete with the other birds for a place at the table I have prepared for my special feathered friends.
These stories make me think of Jesus’ words: “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin?” (Matt. 10:29, NKJV), and “Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins?” (Luke 12:6, NKJV). That means they were cheap and common.
Some bird populations haven’t changed much over the years. The house sparrow is still here—here to remind me that God is not like me. I much prefer a rare visit from a Baltimore oriole or a rose-breasted grosbeak. But to God, we humans “are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:31, NKJV).
And “God has no favorites” (Gal. 2:6, NLT). He is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, NKJV). He respects the request of Nicodemus for a nighttime interview. His loving eyes sadly follow the rich young ruler as he walks away. He notices the widow with her two small coins. He takes time to speak to the woman who had five husbands. He reassures a doubting Thomas. He gently reinstates a hasty Peter. His love reaches the wealthy Joseph of Arimathea. He is willing to accept Pilate and the thief hanging next to Him on the cross.
But somehow I think that in one way He is like us “twitchers.” I do think He keeps count—rejoicing over every single lost sinner returning to the bountiful feast He has prepared for us all (see Luke 15:7; Rev. 19:9).
“Lord, please help me to be more like You as I endeavor to invite others to enjoy the bread of life and as I try to add a few more to Your “book of life list.”
*David Allen Sibley, The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 2002), p. 38.
Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.
Rosalind Landless is a software engineer for the General Conference Treasury-TRIPS Department in Silver Spring, Maryland.