Feeding the Birds
By: Jim Virkler
Bird feeders have supplied joy for thousands of bird lovers anxious to observe birds at close range. Birds are a wonderful biological class—a superb category of living creatures to provide joy for humanity. It is not surprising that many people have devised means of inviting birds into our close range environment. We highlighted Class Aves in our post of 8/8/18:
Since our 2002 arrival in northwest Illinois in a unique region called “The Driftless Area” we have become aware of a wondrous area of bird habitation. We have dubbed it “bird heaven,” because the area affords many opportunities to observe the avian population. Could our awareness trigger a desire to “feed the birds?” We let our readers judge for themselves.
Government wildlife agencies discourage the feeding of wildlife. On the spectrum of different species, birds may be an exception to this advice under certain circumstances. The question of supplying food for birds has many parameters. What could be inappropriate in supplying food for God’s beautiful creatures?
Many scripture writers have highlighted birds to illustrate theological truths, including the authors of Genesis and the Book of Job. The Psalmist David, several Old Testament prophets, and Jesus himself in several gospels, pose references to birds. Several hundred passages in Scripture refer to birds or bird imagery. Even though the Bible is not a “Book of Nature,” some authors of scripture have enriched our understanding with their perceptive understanding of nature.
Students of scripture may notice that human feeding of birds is never mentioned among several hundred biblical references to our feathered companions. Instead, we are told that God provides food for all avian species in various ways. Sometimes birds such as eagles and hawks achieve nourishment through predation. Ravens are supplied with their food from God in various ways. Birds do not sow nor reap, but God feeds them. They find food that is already present. Non-migrating birds have discovered means of finding nourishing seeds or other plant matter produced during the warm growing season. It is not necessary to feed the birds who remain after seasonal changes have spread frigid conditions over the countryside.
Let us review several positive and negative experiences with backyard bird feeding. When we first embarked on a bird feeder adventure, our wire basket suet block feeder was suspended on a pole from our back yard deck. After a few days it was visited by multiple bird species, the record being six different species in less than one minute. One favorite activity was trying to determine which type of woodpecker was currently visiting: was it a hairy woodpecker or a downy woodpecker? (they are almost identical save for a small difference in overall size). Squirrels and raccoons became aware of the largess after a while. They creatively devised ways to access the seeded suet. I retrieved the wire basket from the ground with what was left of the suet many times. One wire basket was never recovered after an extensive search.
Our young grandchildren were fascinated by the neighborhood birds. The experience was of high value for them. Out of weariness from replacing the suet and retrieval of the baskets, over time I gradually surrendered to my lack of energy. Rationalization overcame my motivation. We opted to discontinue the bird feeder adventure.
Does our personal opinion possess ‘campaign value?’ I have surprised friends and family with my alternate view of bird feeders. Notwithstanding, over the past few years our back yard is still frequented by multiple bird species, even though we may be forced to wait longer for viewing opportunities. On occasion our back yard is still a hive of activity. Since last fall our backyard trees have supplied the usual fare of red cedar berries and wild grapes whose vines have overtaken our wild cherry tree. Among the more spectacular visitors to our wild grape crop last fall was the male and female pileated woodpecker pair not even 40 feet from our window. Dozens of cedar waxwings swoop in and are occasionally joined by non-migrating bluebirds and robins in our red cedar trees, even though we are currently deep in the heart of our northwest Illinois winter. Many other species of birds favor us visually with their unique behaviors. High on our list of favorites are the seldom seen but more frequently heard great horned and barred owls.
A surprising truth has been revealed to our family. Job 38:41 and Luke 12:24 provides attitudinal guidelines. Both passages propose God provides food for the ravens. By extension, we infer He provides food for all 10,000 planetary avian species. Even though we are not forbidden to provide food for birds, we subscribe to the principle that the specialized diets naturally accessible to all birds are sufficient for their healthy survival. A USDA guideline applies not only to birds but to the feeding of all wildlife: “Enjoy viewing wildlife at a distance. Respect their space and remember they are wild animals that should stay wild.” This principle of creation care is appropriate and desirable. Many articles on the pros and cons of bird feeding are easily available online.
Among many Scriptures on the wonders of creation is this passage from Psalm 104:10-14 (NIV): “He makes the springs pour water into the ravines, it flows between the mountains. They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. The birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among the branches. He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work. He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate—bringing forth food from the earth…”
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Jim Virkler, a retired New Jersey public school science educator, now devotes his time investigating the harmony of scientific discoveries and Christian faith. He and his wife, Eleanor, now reside in the mid-west near their children and grandchildren.