The blue jays arrived first. They still startle me with their plumage. I didn’t grow up with blue jays, and they’ve always seemed rather foreign to me, like creatures out of a jungle picture book. They are colourful and noisy and somewhat obnoxious, rather like children. They crowded around the feeders, calling to each other with their piercing cries, alerting the bird world to their discovery.
The chickadees came next. They are the bravest of the little birds, willing to dart in between the bossy jays for their share of sunflower seeds. With their black caps on, they seem game for anything. These are the birds which landed on my head last winter when I stood out in the cold for half an hour with seeds on my toque, pretending to be a statue. It was one of those childhood dreams fulfilled. I had tried many times as a kid to stand still enough, for long enough, in our backyard in Fort Smith for the chickadees to land, but they never did. Perhaps I’ve gained some patience as a “grown-up.” Or perhaps this variety is a little less wild. Either way, they braved my humanity long enough to settle and snatch what they were after, and left me grinning like a fool.
Later in the morning I came back to the window and the snowy ground was spread with juncos. I cannot say why these in particular should captivate me. Perhaps it is the distinction between their smoky grey backs and white breasts, or the way their eyes gleam like shiny coals through the smoke. It might sound silly, but I think it’s the way they look at me. They prefer to forage on the ground, picking out what has scattered from more careless birds above. And that’s why we make sure to scatter a few handfuls of seed just for them.
And up among the chickadees, a downy woodpecker, alternating between feeder and branches, gripping bark with its four-toed feet, always head up. How is the grub finding in February, I wonder? It is smaller than its hairy cousin, though just as persistent. It must pick and drill for its food, if easier pickings are not to be found. “If any would not work, neither shall he eat.” I admire its determination, and the way its thrusts its whole upper body beak-first into the search. On Ash Wednesday morning, I woke to the sound of one of these, knocking on doors in the sky.
“Ask and it shall be given unto you. Seek and ye shall find. Knock and the door shall be opened unto you.” This was the message I heard on the day we consider and mark our frailty.
Such little creatures all, with only a feather’s breadth between them and starvation. Fragility like this cannot afford complacency. And so I am happy to spread this small banquet in a sparser season. Sometimes you just need a table prepared.
When you are tired of drilling and foraging through a crust of ice, there is this grace that arrives like manna. In the deep winter, a hand stretches out, offering seed for the sower and bread for the eater.
Be brave, little bird, and come closer!
The search never ends, but neither does the provision. There is always food enough for the journey.