Thursday, November 8, 2012

Soulish Avian Enthusiasm

Our previous posts on the collective enthusiasm of birds in our immediate Northern Illinois neighborhood need some updating. Along with my personal sharing of a few local adventures with birds, I must repeat a definition of soulishness from my summer post on that subject. Soulishness is a trait imparted by our Creator to the created animals described in Genesis 1:21--the endowment of mind, will, and emotions in order that these creatures may form relationships with members of their own species as well as with human beings. My yard has provided more than its share of soulish bird enthusiasm. Some of their behavior may border on deliberate humor.

This autumn I have been impacted several times by the diverse soulish behavior of our feathered friends. First I shall describe behaviors more obviously intended to please other members of their own species. One day a virtual passel of robins swooped in upon the ornamental fountain just outside my office window. It doubles variously as a drinking station and bird bath. Three or four robins bathed together in the small bath while others hopped around and scratched in the mulch below it looking for food. Many other birds observed from the nearby apple tree, their former springtime rivalries forgotten as many other birds flew in and out of the action zone. After ten minutes, the action ceased as quickly as it had begun.

Cedar waxwings, infrequent visitors to our birdbath, nevertheless put on a show of unity and precision one recent day. Four birds equally spaced at the quadrants of the bowl remained quiet and still while their flock mates watched from the nearby branches or flew in and out, presumably on inspection tours. Once again the action ceased suddenly, leaving our fountain deserted. At other times the bath has supplied opportunities for “mixed” bathing, servicing two different bather species at once while two or three separate species watched the action from a near vantage point.

The most fascinating exercise in diverse species cooperation occurs several times each autumn. Recently I counted seven different species flying in and out of the tree branches all at once in our nearby woods. They were sometimes feeding on small cedar cones or insects. Primarily the action consisted of seemingly irrational excited flights from tree to tree in mixed groups. I have described this group action as “going nutty again,” producing some collective excitement. The group consisted of robins, cedar waxwings, tufted titmice, bluebirds, chickadees, a purple finch, and one or two unidentified birds. This is an example of close cooperation between various species. It is reminiscent of human cooperation between diverse groups. The cooperative autumn behavior of robins at the fountain illustrates the willingness to put aside early season intra-species squabbles and join together in unity within their own species.

Perhaps the most people-friendly birds are chickadees. This tiny bird’s vocalization fills the seasons with audible joy. Years ago I succeeded in coaxing one bird to alight on my hand, a not uncommon experience of bird enthusiasts. A few days ago I heard close wing beats several times as a tiny bird approached closely before flying off. I suspected the chickadees had earlier scavenged the black walnut shells I had left behind. On this occasion the little birds approached closely to inspect my work, then retreated to nearby branches. Long after my work was done it was obvious the chickadees had enjoyed the leftover walnut fragments.

As I started writing this post, I heard crows vocalizing in a group through my closed windows. They are intensely social animals. A special treat a few weeks earlier was their display of chasing one another, diving and somersaulting out of apparent mischief or joy. A few miles from home, several dozen chimney swifts flew in and out of a country bridge culvert one evening last summer as our grandchildren watched the display. A nearby town’s industrial chimney supplies swift watchers with seasonal action as they enter and exit their overnight roost before retiring for the night.

Aside from the joy provided for us by our local birds, high level enjoyment is also provided for residents who take time to systematically observe. Most often the bird encounters I describe are accidental and unplanned. We have only to be alert to the multiple wonders around us. Neighborhood bird observations join with the wonder of plant life, mammals, insects and other animals, weather (sometimes frightening, but always interesting), or changing astronomical phenomena which beg to be studied and understood.

High on the list of human enjoyments are soulish animals, created with some qualities which abound in created man. These animals were made, to some extent, for man to observe and enjoy. During imaginative moments, I fancy that our soulish animals may perform for human enjoyment as well as their own. Among the spectrum of human experience from sorrow to ecstasy, we are exhorted to savor God’s gifts. The New Living Translation gives us a fitting reminder: “Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment.” (I Tim. 6:17)