Thanks to my father and youngest brother, I have taken a keener interest in birds.
I say “keener” because I have always enjoyed watching birds. I was fortunate to grow up and live in a region of America that has an abundance of wild birds. I suspect any region of America has an abundance of wild birds, and most likely, an amount equal or more than the number of species living in southeast South Dakota and northeast Nebraska. But since my bird-watching hobby has developed in that part of middle America, it’s the only personal contact I have had with birds.
I grew up in southeast South Dakota, and then after a couple years out of the area, I relocated across the Missouri River in northeast Nebraska. It truly is a wildlife heaven. There are all kinds of birds — from the usual collection of “neighborhood” birds, like robins, wrens, cardinals, and bluebirds, to larger birds, such as eagles, hawks, turkeys, turkey vultures, and pheasants.
I have lived nearly all my life in towns. The populations of the two main cities where I lived were 13,000 and 750. My parents lived on 100 acres near a Missouri River reservoir, and my brother lived in a development nearby. While my “urban” dwelling allowed me to see a nice collection of birds: sparrows, robins, wrens, and finches mostly, my parents and brother saw a monster multiplicity of birds.
So when I moved to another town about six months ago, I wanted to attract birds. My new wife and I set up feeders and a birdbath. We hung a hummingbird feeder. And then we sat back and waited for the birds to come flying in.
At least not in the droves of species I have hoped for. We get sparrows, wrens, finches (yellow and purple/red), robins, and starlings for the most part. We occasionally see a cardinal couple, a bluejay.
But this spring, after watching my father and brother have up to 15 orioles show up at feeders filled with grape jelly and halved oranges, I decided to see if I could attract those beautifully-orange, sweet-toothed birds.
I placed a small ceramic bowl with a healthy dollop of grape jelly on a table on our deck. Within 12 hours, we had a brightly-hued male dipping his beak into the purple sweetness. I was ecstatic! I was elated … excited … encouraged.
In visiting with my father and brother about their bevy of orioles, it was surmised that this huge collection was among the many of the species that were migrating. As the orioles make their way north, some drop off along the flight path, and decide to take up residence at stops along their flight path. The rest continue on. Within a week, the busy feeders at Dad’s and my brother’s had seen a substantial dropoff of orange. It appeared the majority of their oriole visitors had moved on.
My father, in the previous 3-4 years, has had orioles make their unique teardrop nests in a tree just outside his picture window. He gets to watch them come and go while building the nest, and then come and go while tending the young inhabitants of that nest. This year, the tree that had held those previous oriole nests had to be cut down, the victim of disease and age. So he has not seen where the orioles that remained in his area, and still come to feed on jelly and oranges, now reside.
As for my oriole efforts, a day after that male had showed up, a female (I am assuming his partner) made some tentative approaches before eventually skittishly settling on the edge of the bowl and grabbing beakfuls of jelly. Though they are very cautious in their efforts of get their fill of jelly, the pair eventually felt safe and made countless trips to the deck to partake in the sweet feast.
Within a week, I began seeing other orioles at the bowl. My high-water moment came when I had one eating and four others perched on deck furniture waiting for their turn at the trough. I have enjoyed these newcomers, and the original pair, often over the last few days.
And I have noticed, the birds in this collection of orioles are very much like the human race — diverse and very different.
Just as we humans are born with physical features that sets us apart from others of our species, these orioles have physical features that enable me to recognized them immediately. Whereas mankind breaks down by races and ethnicities, these orioles are all the same species … Baltimore Orioles. Though there are also Bullocks Orioles and American Orioles, what I have at my jelly bowl is most certainly Baltimore Orioles.
They are varied in color depth and brilliance, as well as differences between the male and female of the species. But what I have noticed is that each one of those birds, in its own unique and individual makeup, is beautiful and fun to watch. Bright orange, duller orange, bright yellow, or mustard-hued yellow — they are all magnificent creatures.
And this got me thinking … as respectful that I am of each oriole that has stopped by my jelly bowl, do I offer similar respect to all humans with whom I come in contact? How about the humans I see on the TV news and sports? Or those I read about in newspaper and magazine articles?
I hope so. I like to think I demonstrate an equal amount of respect to each and every human being I see or meet. It is, after all, a truly basic characteristic of being human. Right? Love your neighbor as you love yourself … the basis upon which the Bible was created so many years ago.
I have always felt it shouldn’t take a book to explain how we should live among our fellow man. To me, within each of us should exist the basic tenant that we should care for all humans. I don’t mean to place myself on some moralistic pedestal. I admit, it took me at the very least, half of my time on Earth to come to this conclusion. But I did arrive at it, and I try to live my life with that being the foundation of my existence.
I love watching my oriole friends (I consider them friends since they come and visit often). And I love watching, and encountering, my fellow man. My children will attest, I consider no one a stranger. I will strike up a conversation with anyone. If they choose not to engage, I graciously back off, but if they decide to carry on the conversation, well, I have met someone new, and that someone has added to the depth of my life.
I don’t really know why I drew this correlation. But as I sat on my couch this morning, sipping coffee and watching the orioles grab multiple bites of purple breakfast, I was struck by the similarity — the relationship I have with those brilliant-but-skittish birds. I had offered my friendship, via food, and they had accepted.
I do the same with people … errr, not always with food, though. But maybe what I offer them is something akin to food. Perhaps it is food for their souls. By being accepting of them, respecting them, and offering that respect, I might very well be feeding their souls. And when I do that, I can consider each one my friend.
It doesn’t have to be a lifetime friendship — even a brief exchange while waiting in line, or filling up our car, or even passing in a hallway — it is a friendship. It is feeding their souls. It is, as I have done with the orioles, showing respect and acceptance of all.