A Bird in the Hand

A bird in the hand is worth far more than two in the bush, especially if she’s there on her own free will. Last fall, I taught the chickadees in my yard to take sunflower seeds from my hand. In return, I have been blessed with hours of quiet entertainment, and a deepening appreciation of the beautiful and fragile life we share this world with.

It didn’t take long to gain their trust – it was only a matter of days before they would cautiously land in my hand. I had Saggy Sue’s help though.Saggy Sue, a patient and cold-resistant soul born of old clothes stuffed with newspaper, sat for days on a chair in our front garden with a plate of black oil sunflower seeds in her lap. The birds quickly grew accustomed to her quiet presence. Only a day later they were feeding from her lap and peering curiously over the rim of her hat.

A few days later I relieved Sue from her post, put on her straw hat and worn leather jacket and took her place in the garden. Oh, the birds knew something was up. I quickly learned not to look at the birds directly, and not to smile, for my focused gaze or a hint of teeth sent them reeling in alarm. So I sat still, holding my breath in anticipation, watching the birds from the corner of my eye. Watching them watching me. After numerous false starts, one finally landed on my arm, hopped onto my hand and reached down to grab a seed. The moment of trust had come. I had, for the first time, a little piece of living, breathing, wild nature in the palm of my hand. Joy and awe rushed through my body. I wanted to call out to the world to come experience it with me. To see and feel and know that a wild bird can trust. But I remained still and let that joy reverberate through my body. Still on the outside, whirling on the inside.

Over time, their trust grew. Now I need only step out the front door and the chickadees chatter excitedly, and come sailing across the yard like black and white headed missiles. My hand becomes a fast food joint, where bird after bird will alight, grab a seed and takeoff moments before the next one’s turn. Meanwhile, those in line wait impatiently from a nearby shrub, my toque, or shoulders, or hang from my scarf or pant leg. As my hands grow cold in the crisp winter air, the birds nails feel sharper and sharper. I could wear mittens, but I prefer direct contact – to feel their tiny feet grasp my bare fingers, and to feel their warm bellies brush lightly against my fingertips as they bend to pick up a seed.

Nature divulges her secrets to those who take time to be still and absorb the abundance of her world. These playful chickadees have given me a vital and intimate connection with the natural world. It refreshes and heals my soul. Everyday these birds remind me that we share our world with countless other living species. There are lives and dramas unfolding all around us. We need to acknowledge and celebrate this fact. For, when a bird stops to observe you, when she rests in your palm, and looks at you, head cocked to one side, brown eyes shining, time stops but for a moment. Two creatures observe each other with curiosity and gentle acceptance. It is a sacred connection. A connection brimming with mystery, peace, and wonder.