Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Feeding the Birds as a Spiritual Practice
When I moved into the house I’m living in now (about 13 years ago), one of the first things I did was to set up a couple of birdfeeders. I’d never been able to do this in the previous places I lived, either because I had outdoor cats—and it always seemed kind of cruel for me to put out food for the birds, knowing that some of them were going to get attacked when they came to eat—or because I was living in an apartment with no good place to put a feeder.
As a Pagan, I look at feeding the birds (and the other critters who are attracted to the seeds that spill onto the ground underneath) not just as a fun thing to do, but as a part of my spiritual practice. Allow me to explain.
Witches and Pagans follow a nature-based religion, for the most part. For me, the act of feeding the birds is a way of helping to sustain the creatures that live nearby, as well as adding beauty to my daily life. Instead of just observing the occasional passing flock, I become a part of their life cycle, and they become a part of mine.
Where I live in upstate New York, the winters can be brutal. Last night it was well below zero. There is very little growing that the birds and other animals can eat—a few berries left on bushes, the old apples still hanging from my trees, and whatever else they can scavenge. Obviously, the birds that hang around here in the winter are designed to be able to survive in this environment, but that doesn’t mean it is easy.
So I do my best to help out. It can get expensive (I attract enough birds that I can easily go through a ten dollar bag of birdseed in under a week), so I only do it from the end of fall to the beginning of spring, when they need it the most. And, of course, it isn’t always fun, having to go out into the cold and dig a path through the snow to get to the feeders to refill them. But I am rewarded with the cheery sight of a bright red cardinal when everything else outside in black and white or brown, and when I eat my breakfast, I can look out the window and watch the birds eating theirs too.
I get lots of other incidental visitors as well. I’ve seen deer (although more often just their tracks, since they tend to come in the middle of the night), rabbits, chipmunks, and of course, squirrels. Earlier in the season, I even had a grouse showing up on a regular basis. (A kind of wild game bird that looks kind of like a big chicken.)
I may be feeding the birds and their friends, but they are feeding me in return; feeding my spirit, filling my eyes with beauty and my heart with joy, and reinforcing my connection with the natural world. This seems to me to be an awfully good return on the investment of a few bags of birdseed.
Not everyone can feed the birds, of course, but you don’t have to do it on a regular basis to make it a part of your own spiritual practice. If you live in an apartment, they make feeders that attach to the outside of a window, or you can hang a small feeder outside if there is space—even on a fire escape. Or go to a local park and feed the birds there, if it is legal wherever you live. If you have a house, try putting up one feeder to start, or even a simple bird treat made from a pine cone rolled in peanut butter or suet, and then rolled in seeds. You can hang this kind of homemade feeder from a small branch or a stick pushed into the ground. Another easy-to-make disposable bird treat is an apple rolled in peanut butter, which can be hung from a string that is pushed through the middle of the apple. If you don’t want to spend money on birdseed, try just tossing stale bread or over-ripe fruit out where the birds can get it.
There are many ways for us to integrate the natural world into our busy lives, but for me, feeding the birds is a simple and satisfying way to keep my promise to the Goddess to treat Her creatures well and make them a part of my everyday life.
Do you feed the birds?