I have bird feeders outside my kitchen window this winter. I live near a forest, so I get a fairly wide variety of birds. Some of the regulars include cardinal, blue jay, chickadee, tufted titmouse, downy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, and a lovely little wren that occasionally finds its way into the house for a visit. They come in ones and twos, brightly colored and elegant, a bit skittish if I get too close to the window.
Then the flock of sparrows moves in for a meal. Their brown feathers blend with the bare tree branches and the mud in the yard where the dogs have been playing. The males always look smudgy and untidy with their fuzzy black bibs. There might be ten or fifteen at a time. They can clean out the feeder in a couple of days. I find myself resenting them a bit before I remind myself that they need to eat as much as the more interesting birds.
I’m drawn to romantic references to sparrows. I have knitting patterns that refer to sparrows and yarn dyed to the color of sparrow feathers. I find myself wanting to like sparrows because of Murray Bodo’s book Song of the Sparrow with its poetic reflections on how the humble sparrows remind him of Saint Francis. And of course Jesus reminds us that not a single sparrow falls without God being aware of it. All of these literary and artsy references make sparrows very appealing. But then the sparrows themselves settle into view and I’m disappointed because they’ve chased away the sharply black and white chickadees or the golden brown female cardinal.
I would never chase the sparrows away. I had them nesting in my porch ceiling for years until a starling moved in instead. But I don’t enjoy them as much as I do the other birds. I think I take them for granted. They’re always around, day in, day out, season to season. I suspect I would miss them more than I realize if they suddenly left.
Thinking about the sparrows makes me wonder if I regard people in the same way. Learning to love the sparrows might make a good discipline for Lent.
Sparrow image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman FreeDigitalPhotos.net