Bird Exuberance

By: Jim Virkler; ©2009

Hidden in the verses of Psalm 148 is an unusual directive to sea creatures, all ocean depths, weather phenomena, mountains, trees, and wild animals to “Praise the Lord from the earth.” This instruction applies to “small creatures and flying birds.” So I applied these verses to my observations of the unique behavior of birds in our wooded, northwestern Illinois neighborhood.

For several years I have noticed that there are periodic episodes of collective, ebullient behavior among the feathered friends inhabiting our property. The behavior may be described as pure exuberance, having little purpose except obvious enjoyment. Several species of birds, primarily cedar waxwings, robins, and a few others, collect together in treetop crowds and fly noisily and swiftly from tree to tree, frolicking and feeding. After a few minutes the bedlam ceases, only to be resumed later. When this occurs, I tell my wife the birds are “going crazy” again. I’ve seen mixed groups of warblers exhibit similar behavior, especially in autumn.

Other bird behavior provokes amusement in me as an observer. With sanctified imagination, I could speculate that our birds are obeying the poetic directive of the psalmist that even the animals should give praise to their creator. If inanimate heavenly bodies like the sun, moon, and stars are called upon to offer praise, merely by displaying their beauty and glory, we might also view the deliberate antics of neighborhood avian entertainers in the same way.

Some members of a large group of young cedar waxwings recently showed off their joie de vivre in our leafless black walnut tree. They entered and exited a deserted nest structure, pulling off dead leaf stems and deliberately dropping them to the ground. Then, closely facing each other, opened and closed their bills as if speaking with each other. Cedar waxwings are known to pass food items down a row of birds sitting on a branch until one bird finally eats it. Other bird species soar in groups on rising air drafts, cool and clean themselves in water puddles, or gather in social groups to fly off deliberately toward destinations known only to them.

I could continue to describe the entertaining antics of crows, hummingbirds, owls, blue-jays, and many more. A strong case could be made that if the antics of our avian entertainers amuse and entertain, our own human emotions of praise are heightened.

A previous post described spring bird behaivior in our area:

Horatius Bonar, known as the 19th century prince of Scottish hymn writers, wrote, “Thus the air is vocal. It has a hallelujah of its own. The ‘flying fowl’ praise him. This is creation’s harp…which each sunrise awakens, “turning all the air to music.” Charles Spurgeon, 19th century “Prince of Preachers,” wrote in The Treasury of David, “Birds of every wing are called upon to join the universal worship. No one can become familiar with insect and bird life without feeling that they contribute a wonderful chapter in the history of divine wisdom.” I encourage readers to take quality time to observe the praise-givers.


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