“Hey Grandpa. Come quick. You got to see this,” shouted my 3-year-old grandson. He was standing at the back door, staring out the glass panels.
I got there just before his second “Hurry up, grandpa!” He was jumping up and down. “It’s a ‘cawdnal’ he said, pointing at a red-robed bird, all plump and proud, perched on a wire.
It wasn’t there for long, but then we spotted a brown-headed cowbird, half-hidden in the branches a of small tree.
Looking up again, we saw a sparrow now on the wire, cheeping away, acting as if the cardinal was just the opening act.
“How many birds are there, Grandpa?” my grandson asked. I didn’t know if he was referring to all birds dotting the global skies or just the subset of those in his backyard. I simply replied, “Not as many as there were.”
A recent study reported that over the past 50 years, North America has lost more than a quarter of its bird population — over three billion birds. Hardest hit were just 12 families, familiar to many for their markings and their song. Sparrows, warblers, finches and meadowlarks all suffered serious decline.
“Look at the birds in the sky,” Jesus admonished, making an example of their untroubled dependence on God. But that was before climate change, pesticides, urbanization and habitat degradation. Our feathered friends may be a little anxious now.
Birds have always been a part of our story. A dove brought Noah a branch, signaling the beginning of a new life. Quails, knee-deep in the desert, sustained the wandering Israelites. Ravens fed the prophet Elijah when he was in hiding.
Turtledoves — and pigeons for the poor — were sacrificed to expiate sin and implore God’s mercy.
In the first chapter of Genesis, God said, “Let the birds multiply on the earth.” Now subtracting instead of multiplying, we need to reconsider what God meant when He gave humans “dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the airs, and all the living things that move on the earth.”
Maybe there’s a hint in the second chapter where the words are “cultivate and care.”
I worry that there will be a time when we can no longer take Job’s advice and ask “the birds of the air to tell you” of the hand of God in the world.
I worry my grandson may never hear “Hey Grandpa. Come quick. You got to see this.”