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Feeding the birds
Kathy Bradley
Kathy Bradley

The bird feeder is getting old. The tray on the bottom of the hexagon is made of metal and it is rusty and thinner than it was when I first began feeding the United Nations of birds in my backyard several years ago. The plexiglass sides are dirty, but somehow the birds know when there is food inside and they come in segregated waves to be fed.

The cardinals, the bluebirds and the crows are easily identifiable by color from my back door. The smaller, browner birds — the ones who melt into the landscape when they land on the ground — are, I know, wrens and swallows and sparrows, but they don't let me get close enough to identify them.

They are, all of them, brightly colored or subtly dull, happy birds. They sing in unison — if not in harmony — on the bright sunny days that are becoming more common. I am already into my third 18-pound bag of bird seed and it is just now spring.

Only a few days after I had filled the feeder for the first time, I was wandering around the yard and, as I got closer to the sycamore tree from which the theater hangs, I heard a frantic fluttering. Two tiny birds had somehow managed to burrow their way into the bird feeder.

Drawing closer, I could see the delicate color variations in their feathers — browns and tans that could be the variations on a single Sherwin-Williams paint card. Their little beaks were about half as long as the nail on my pinky finger, dark and pointed.

I lifted the lid and one of the two immediately rose into the open air, flapping madly to put as much distance as possible between himself and me. The second one, looking exactly like the first, kept on beating his wings against the plexiglass — rapidly, like eyelids in sunshine.

I tilted the feeder, thinking that his failure to escape was due to some sort of inability to lift his head and see the sky above him. Still, with only a few inches between himself and freedom, he fluttered in place. It was as though he had become so accustomed to the fluttering and the beating and the fear that his tiny little bird brain could not engage in anything else.

I tried tapping the bottom and something about that sound, that reverberation, persuaded him toward flight.

I would have kept thinking about that little bird anyway, but at least twice more since then I've been called upon to free birds from that same feeder. And each time I am left wondering how in the world they managed to become imprisoned by something that was supposed to nurture them.

There is a story in Scripture about the prophet Nathan confronting King David with regard to his adultery. It is not a direct confrontation, but an allegorical one. Nathan explains that a wealthy man in the kingdom has taken a family’s little lamb, its pet, and slaughtered it for a feast. Outraged by the action and enamored with his own power, King David proclaims that the man shall be executed. Nathan replies, “You are the man.”

Every time I think about the birds, I hear a voice in my head saying, “You are the bird.” And that voice speaks truth. How many times have I allowed something that was meant to be good, beneficial, educational, nurturing, become the method of my capture, my obsession? How many times have I, in insecurity and uncertainty, in all consuming fear, found myself beating my own wings against plexiglass?

I have thought about replacing the bird feeder. I have thought about taking it down and requiring all the birds to share the little plastic pagoda-shaped one two trees down. I have thought about how I can save the birds.

But I can't save the birds. The birds have to save themselves.

I am the bird.

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