The Parakeet and Big Red
By JIM NICHOLS
Perhaps you have heard the joke about the man who went for a walk. During the walk, he saw a woman talking to her dog. When he got home, the man told his cat about it and they both had a good laugh.
The relationship between humans and animals is an eternal and fascinating one. The Bible is packed with references to animals starting in the very first chapter. One could make the case that animals were much more than just bit players during the early days of life on earth. Some of the animals are of concern (such as the Serpent), but many of them play roles that are positive, often as messengers from God. Of particular interest for this story is the bird group, clearly first choice messengers from God in a variety of scenes. There are even some current scenes of note.
Once there was a family that liked to feed the birds. The backyard had several feeders containing sunflower seeds, thistle, peanuts, and some other varieties. Different birds, like humans, apparently prefer different foods. The word got around that this was a good backyard to frequent because the owners were relatively diligent at keeping the feeders filled. The squirrels were frustrated that the feeders were not available to them because of their design, but they satisfied themselves by gathering the food below that the birds dropped. This may or may not have been some sort of designed and agreed upon cooperation between the birds and squirrels.
The variety of birds frequenting the feeders was appropriate for that part of the country. Blue jays, cardinals, finch of various types, sparrows galore, woodpeckers, some tit-mouse, robins feeding on the ground, doves trying to avoid hunters. It was a pleasant and colorful mixture.
One spring a parakeet appeared. Clearly this was an escapee from someone’s house, but it was still a bird, and, after all, these were bird feeders. It seemed as if the native birds accepted it as a neighbor and it ate freely and happily. It also appeared the second day, and then the third. The family finally concluded that it was there to stay for the season, and they expected to see it, which they did. The Parakeet was a classic blue, although its gender was difficult to determine at the distance from the house. You may understand that parakeet gender can be determined usually by the color of a piece of flesh just above its beak and nostrils. There are also a couple of behavioral differences, but this Parakeet, the escapee, seldom was still enough to decipher.
The days became shorter as fall arrived and there was some turnover in the bird types in the yard. The Parakeet disappeared.
To the delight of the family, however, the next spring the Parakeet returned and stayed for the whole season. Logical or not, the family deemed this as something more than an accident. Where had it gone for the winter? How did it find its way back? To suppose this was a twin was asking too much. The family wished it could talk to the Parakeet and find out some information. They did, however, believe there was something divine about it.
The Parakeet was gone after two years, but Big Red appeared. Cardinals had regularly been attendees in the yard year-round, but none matched the grandeur and stature of Big Red. The family did not want to attribute too much human behavior to him, but he surely seemed to be somewhat like a king. He always sat on a certain branch, not too high and not too low, just next to one of the feeders. It seemed he was overseeing the feeding activity of the others. He had the most magnificent long tail and high, peaked head feathers; no other male cardinal seemed to compare.
Given the frequency of birds in scripture as messengers from God, the family considered that the Parakeet and Big Red had appeared for a purpose in the life of the family. They wondered about the mystery brought to them by these small creatures and saw, at least, reminders of spontaneous grace, unexpected but assuring.
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current medical chaplain