‘Winter’s not gone yet, if the wild geese fly that way. (King Lear, 2.4.48)
Just a few miles along the road from here is the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust reserve at Arundel, on the banks of the river Arun. Here there are winter bird visitors in abundance. It’s well worth a visit if you are anywhere near -so much interest in a small compass, all enjoying these rich waterside habitats. A few miles upstream on the same river Arun, on the other side of the downs, is the RSPB reserve at Pulborough Brooks where there are more ducks, geese and other water birds. No, the winter’s not gone yet because the geese are still here!
Fast Food Outlets
However you don’t have to go out. The birds come to you, especially if you put up a bird feeder. As I write this, a group of sparrows are noisily squabbling just outside this window (see below) where they nest freely each year. No shortage of these cheery little neighbours here, though they have been scarce in the London area in recent years. Watching the common garden birds at our bird feeders is always a delight, as they queue up awaiting their turn in the pecking order. The antics of the robin are amusing as it plucks up courage to squeeze through the squirrel protection bars, so too is the desperate flapping of the blackbird as it tries to hover while reaching in for a sunflower seed. Another amusing sight is the herring gulls ‘paddling’ with their feet on the grass verge to simulate rain falling and force worms up to the surface. If we will only watch for a while birds can give us so much pleasure—all for free.
Watching these birds comes as a reminder. Why do we humans go about life worrying so much about things? If we believe and trust in God, worry and anxiety need have no place for us, knowing that our lives are safely in Hands which are so much greater than our own.
‘Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life’? (Matthew’s Gospel chapter 6:26)
‘Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.’ (Matthew’s Gospel chapter 10:29)
Birds of a Feather
Opening the window one day I heard a huge flock of starlings in the trees opposite. chattering away with whistles, and sounding like school children let out into the playground all talking at once, calling, laughing, playing, and generally letting off steam. On another day the same trees were hosting a different group. Some local jackdaws were trying to take up residence but were being strongly disputed by the resident crows and a party of magpies. A huge cacophony continued as the ‘corvid war’ proceeded noisily. How interesting it would be to know what is going on in the minds of these birds as they squabble among themselves. The starling ‘murmurations’ (what a delightfully apt word) amaze us all as we watch on the television nature programmes, as they wheel about in the sky dramatically before settling to roost somewhere at hand. These birds can also be very amusing.
In his essay ‘Birds of the Farmhouse’ in ‘Wildlife in a Southern County’, Richard Jefferies has a delightful and amusing description of these social starlings ‘chatting’ together on the roof tops. He imagines one bird trying to persuade the others to join it in a foraging trip to some rich feeding ground nearby.The others appear reluctant to take any notice, but when the ‘talker’ gives up on them and flies off himself, the rest immediately have second thoughts and follow him too—lest they should miss out on the possible bonanza!
Some Unexpected Visitors
At our recent post-Christmas coffee morning for our near neighbours, one topic of conversation was the local bird life. To my surprise one couple reported that a sparrow hawk regularly visits their garden, using a post there as a ‘plucking post’ to eat unwary greenfinches caught at the bird feeders. Another neighbour has a regular heron taking fish from her pond. There are more birds outside our windows than we realise.
Thank God for the gift of birds and the beauty of bird song. They give us so much pleasure and teach us many lessons. We need to treasure them and seek to preserve them. So many species are in decline and several in serious danger of disappearing altogether from our countryside. I plan to look at this in a later post
Photos of Canada Geese and of a Starling murmuration both from Microsoft Clip Art