Reproduction, Behavior, and Design

By: Jim Virkler; ©2014

Dealing with each of the three topics in this post title with any degree of thoroughness could be an exercise in futility. Each topic, however, has lately been brought to mind by the activity around the small suet feeder suspended from our rear deck. An exceedingly cold, snowy winter in northwest Illinois has failed to disperse our traditional feathered winter residents. In our neighborhood they seem to be thriving. Most of these birds are less often seen during the summer when they inhabit the cover of warm weather foliage, busily reproducing. In the warm season they obey an unseen, inner imperative to multiply their kind.

Winter affords opportunity to observe certain species at close range. How close? I have suspended a small wire cage from our deck containing a block of seeded suet a few feet from my west-facing sun room window. Perhaps my avian friends don’t need the food I supply, but their visits to our feeder have helped me contemplate lofty thoughts about how our Heavenly Father cares for this world’s creatures during all seasons and conditions and endows living things with skill and beauty. God’s provides animals with coping skills.

Psalm 84:3 speaks of the sparrow finding a home and the swallow a nest for herself. Chapter 104:27 calls attention to many varied creatures for whom God makes provision when “these all look to you to give them their food at the proper time.” Jesus proclaimed, “…not one (sparrow) will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.” Generally, scripture contains expressions of divine care bestowed by God on the creatures he created.

Even as our unusual early March deep freeze still holds the landscape in its icy grip, some songsters have sensed the longer day length during February and have begun to serenade the neighborhood with more exuberant vocalizations. In their instinctive awareness, they anticipate the coming of spring and the approaching days when their efforts will be directed toward reproduction–mating, nest building, egg laying, hatching, feeding, and fledging their young. (Our local newspaper announced that yesterday’s March 2 high temperature was the lowest high temperature, +3˚F, for any day in March in recorded history in this region.) In less than two months our bird residents will obey their inner reproductive mandate, including our neighborhood’s eight or ten winter resident bluebirds who seem unfazed by last night’s readings of -8˚F.

Our suet feeder has been visited by blue jays, cardinals, chickadees, downy and hairy woodpeckers, flickers, juncos, nuthatches, red-bellied woodpeckers, starlings, and tufted titmice. Birds not interested in the feeder–including bluebirds, cedar waxwings, and robins–sometimes observe from a distance. Most unusual are the collectively exuberant intervals when multiple specimens of six or more different species await their turns at the feeder all at once. This morning six different species scrambled to visit in less than one minute, with three on the small feeder at once on one occasion. In between are long stretches when no birds are anywhere in sight. A similar phenomenon occurs in the fall when multiple species fly about from tree to tree, feeding, frolicking, and then deserting the area. We are reminded of animated human enthusiasm at picnics or sporting events. Our past posts on soulishness discuss this fascinating phenomenon.

The specifics of the reproduction process have great interest far beyond the visual observation of animal behavior, nest building, parental nourishment of babies, care and training of young animals, how the new generation adapts, and other factual items of interest. Biologists deal with reproduction at the level of gametes, zygotes, embryos and wonderful construction and integration processes of various types of body organs and systems during gestation. We visually observe our neighborhood birds and mammals, but even more remarkable miracles occur at these levels.

Finally, we comment on the diverse design features of our feeder visitors. When we observe the uniqueness of feathers, bill shape, or coloring, and contemplate the catalog of multiple physical features and adaptations of birds at our suet feeder, our heart leaps with wonder. We must agree that knowledge of the theology of creation extends from the birds in our back yard to countless thousands of wonders our cosmos surrounding us each day of our lives.

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