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by David Wyper
I looked out my family room window on a late spring day at two evergreen trees close to the house, drawn by some commotion in one of the branches. A bird was flapping around and there were loud squawking sounds, so I went outside to see what was going on. As I got near the tree, a big bird, probably a crow, flew away, and I noticed a small nest on the branch at about my eye level. Above me, on the roof of the family room, two cardinals were carrying on and having a fit. They were a beautiful red male, and a female, more brown in color. These two, for the lack of a better phrase, were screaming and yelling in 'bird-ese', flying back and forth between the roof and me. They surprised me by such agitation. But then, I looked in the tree and saw what they were fretting about - two baby birds! One lay on a branch just below the nest and the other in the groundcover under the tree. That big bird had attacked the nest and knocked the babies out. I must have gotten there just in time to scare him away. With the parents flailing away and believing I was just another enemy, I gently lifted each baby cardinal into my hands and placed them back in the nest. Rescue completed.
The baby cardinals were probably only a few days old. I did what I could; they were back in their nest. I looked up at the adult cardinals and said, "Now, you guys take care of them." I didn't know if the babies were hurt but they looked okay. I went back in the house and watched from inside, wondering what would happen. Would the parents come back? Would these baby birds be left alone, leaving me two orphaned dependents? What would happen? Within a few minutes I saw the mother cardinal fly onto the tree branch, checking the babies. Then the father, the really pretty bird, joined her. They began attending to their kids and the nest and I thought they would stay. It was up to them now.
I went back outside. As I looked in at the nest, the mother bird flew to some other tree and the father cardinal flew up to the roof, about six feet above me. He stayed there, looking at me as though he knew I had done something very good for his family. I said, "Pretty Bird, take care of them." Thus began a very unique relationship between me and a bird, an especially bright red cardinal. He would eventually come to see me as his savior, provider, and protector, a source of great blessings and delights. Pretty Bird, in turn, would teach me about my Father God and Savior and His wonderful creation.
In the next few weeks of summertime I watched the Pretty Bird family around the yard, a little less than an acre, with our Cape Cod house, plenty of trees, and a population of squirrels, rabbits, our two dogs, and many other kinds of birds. I saw the baby Cardinals leave the nest and fly off to explore, returning to the nest at times. Pretty Bird was always with them to get them food and watch over them away from the nest. They were always hollering for food, too. I could usually find them by their little peeping sounds. Pretty Bird started deliberately letting me know where he was, probably in case there was any trouble. The mother Cardinal stayed closer to home but also followed them around on occasion.
I saw the baby Cardinals leave the nest and fly off for other destinations. Soon the baby cardinals were half-grown and they all flew around together. I wanted to help Pretty Bird with all that feeding, so I bought a birdseed mixture that had a picture of a red cardinal on the bag. I thought, "That must be what they want". It was full of sunflower seeds. Cardinals really like sunflower seeds and they can pick them up, move them around in their beak, crack them, eat the inner seed and spit out the shell with fine precision. No hands! It's amazing! The other seeds in the bag attracted the sparrows, jays, other birds, and squirrels. Squirrels like the sunflower seeds, too.
Just outside the patio glass door, a miniature Alberta spruce tree, about 6 feet tall, stands inside a flowerbox structure, with a two-by-six board for a seat. I put out birdseed on this seatboard. Pretty Bird soon learned to fly to the corner of the roof or just fly into the little spruce tree and wait for me to put his sunflower seeds out. Then he would jump down and feast. At first, he was able to eat alone, or sometimes with his mate and the kids, without interruption. I also put a birdbath in the patio garden where he could get a drink of water and take a bath.
However, soon it started to get very crowded at mealtimes. A community of sparrows started to gather and wait in a forsythia bush about 20 feet behind the spruce tree and would fly to the birdseed when I went back into the house. Then the squirrels came down from other trees and made it to the feed area for the kernels of corn that were in the bag. The blue jays and doves came along, too.
They all started to crowd Pretty Bird off the board, and even though he could stand up for himself, there were too many competitors. Pretty Bird eventually found himself on the ground looking up at his sunflowers seeds, squawking. It was like he had his little bird wings on his hips yelling, "HEY! SCRAM! Those are mine!"
I watched this from inside the family room and laughed, but as soon as I came right up to the glass door, all the other birds took off and the squirrels ran away. Pretty Bird didn't go. He looked at me, then he looked at the others running away and seemed to say, "That's pretty neat," and he hopped back up to eat his sunflower seeds. He learned that when I stood at the glass door or came outside and sat nearby, he could stay and eat in peace. He ate until he had enough and flew off.
When I went back in the house all the other birds and squirrels came back to eat. Even though they were scared of me, they also were blessed by the relationship that Pretty Bird had developed with me, as I became his savior and provider, the one who would protect him and his sunflower seeds. Pretty Bird knew that my presence would give him peace and protection and he didn't have to be afraid. I knew that I had a 'no exception' responsibility to make sure that his trust was never compromised, never violated.
In winter, bright red Pretty Bird looked great in the snow. I put lights on the Alberta spruce tree and when he came for his sunflowers it was like the perfect Christmas card. The seasons changed from winter to spring to summer and fall again, for over five years with Pretty Bird seeking me out for sunflowers and maybe just to be with me. As time went by he became bolder - not careless - but bold. He could recognize me from great a distance, obviously looking for me to drive up in the car. (He also recognized both my cars.) He followed after me as I walked the dogs, whenever I forgot to leave his morning sunflowers.
Pretty Bird looked for me and sought me out, wherever on the property I was. He got to know me, my appearance and my nature, and his trust, by faith, increased month by month. And I always knew him because he wouldn't fly away when I moved towards him, because he had just a slightly distinctive face as far as the black around his eyes, and he was fat and bright.
Once, when I went out the sliding door of the family room, he spotted me from the farthest part of the back yard and immediately took flight like an F-16 right at me, barely clearing the picket fence around the garden, then putting on the brakes to make a soft landing in the spruce tree. It was such a kick to see this bright red bird coming right for me. One time I was on the driveway working on my lawnmower and I didn't notice him on the garage roof. He jumped down on the lawn mower handle, as if to say, "Hey! I'm here!" Another time I was looking for some nuts and bolts in the garage and I didn't know he was out there waiting for foodservice. So he jumped down onto the brick path and walked right into the garage through the back door. He was getting very demanding.
One afternoon as I was walking up my driveway and then along the walk beside the garage to the patio, Pretty Bird saw me from a treetop across the street. He dropped some 70 feet in a free fall, flew between the bushes and the garage like a Star Wars X-wing fighter, tilting his wings to vertical with the ground, so to miss me, and then put on his "wing air brakes" to again make a soft landing for food. If we drove up to the garage he would be on the corner of the garage roof or land in the crab apple tree above the car. One time my wife and I stayed in the car talking until Pretty Bird, getting impatient, dropped down onto the car hood an looked right in the front windshield. If we parked in the front of the house instead of on the driveway, he would land on the mailbox. If I was washing the car he'd sit on the lamppost. If I got out a water hose with a hand sprinkler, he loved to sit in the honeysuckle hedge and take a shower. If the Rainbird yard sprinkler was in use, he picked the best spot and bathed away. I think he was singing. This was truly unique in my experience.
One summer day, Pretty Bird came to the family room door and wanted something other than birdseed. I went outside and he flew to the far end of the garage roof. I followed and he took off for the honeysuckle hedge around the front yard. When I got there I could see his nest for that season. I guess he wanted to show me where he was in case there was trouble.
When one of his families, one boy and one girl, had grown to adolescence, something happened to the boy. I found him lifeless on the ground by the screened back porch of the house. Pretty Bird and his mate were up above in one of the trees and watched me bury their son. That was sad.
Finally, it was winter again and snowing around both Thanksgiving and Christmas. I realized, as I was looking out at the decorated tree on the patio, that I hadn't seen Pretty Bird for about four days. That was very unusual. He had come around almost every day for over five years. I was concerned that something might have happened to him. Of course, I didn't know how old a bird he was, but I'd read that Cardinals might live to be eighteen or more. He always looked pretty good - except for being a little overweight.
On Christmas Eve, late in the afternoon, I went out onto the screened porch at the back of the house for some firewood. When I turned to go back inside, there was this familiar chirping behind me. Outside the porch on the firewood pile, right close to the screen, was Pretty Bird, letting me know he was there. "Pretty Bird, where have you been? I'm glad to see you." He was right up to the screen, very red and fluffed up, and obviously saying, "I'm back."
I went into the house for a cup of seed from a jar that I had at the back door, with his sunflower seeds, and went back out the porch door and around to the bin of firewood. He was sitting on a flat board I had long ago put on the wood bin as a place for him to eat. Normally, while I put his seeds down he would jump up to the porch gutter or edge of the roof, wait, and then return when I stepped back a little, still wisely cautious. But this time he didn't move. He stayed right where he was, watching my hand reach out to spread the food in front of him. He couldn't have been more than eight inches from my hand. This is not common for a cardinal; he was showing even more trust towards me.
"It's good to see you again Pretty Bird and to know that you're alright. Merry Christmas," I said. Then I said to myself, "Well now, I'm saying 'Merry Christmas' to a bird." But somehow, I think all creatures know their Creator: they know Jesus.
"For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God (that we become like Jesus.) For the creature was made subject to vanity (us), not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope. Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption (death) into the glorious liberty of the children of God (life). For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now." (Romans 8:19-22)
I turned away and went back into the house so he could eat in peace. I never saw Pretty Bird Again.
On that last meeting, it seemed as though the cardinal was coming back to let me know something was about to change. Maybe he knew his life was coming to end. Who knows? It was like he wanted to say thank you for the peace, provision and protection I had given to him and his family. Peace, that passed his bird's understanding, and the protection of his heart and mind, is like what we get from our Saviour.
There are many bright red cardinals in the yard now, probably all sons of Pretty Bird. I still put out the seeds for his children. When I go to the glass door to watch one who learned to feed where his father did, he flies way when he sees me. He flies away because he doesn't trust me, or know me, as his father did. It's clear to me that the delight I took in Pretty Bird was not because he was such a beautiful creature, but because he knew my presence meant a blessing to him, and he knew that his presence was pleasing to me. He trusted me. That was awesome.
God said to His prophet Jeremiah that we should glory and rejoice to know and understand Him. (Jeremiah 9:24)
This was a wonderful and unusual relationship that I had with a beautiful, sometimes funny and demanding, little bird. "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:16) The cardinal learned how to do just that.
I will miss Pretty Bird. I will miss him very much.
copyright David Wyper, 2006
David Wyper is a singer/songwriter/producer of Gospel Music recordings and video. He is the author of many inspirational teachings and sermons. Originally from Southern California, where he graduated from Redlands University with a degree in Business Economics, he resides in Champaign IL with "his lovely wife" Sharon and a Border Collie named Popcorn.
Contact David Wyper at firstname.lastname@example.org .com
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