On a sunny September weekend I held a tiny bird in my hand. Months later I’m still thinking about it.
In my new role as the Director at Crieff Hills Retreat Center I get to do all kind of fun new things, but my first ever bird banding event was the best so far.
Visitors gathered out in the back field by one of the old barns (left over from the days when the farm had cows and sheep) where we found a pot of coffee, an enormous plate of oatmeal cookies and certified bird bander Brian Pomfret. He is an experienced biologist with a remarkably quick wit. After a few words to welcome and gather us together, he said, “Follow me!” and we headed out to the forested trails.
It was a sunny walk with great company. I met a couple new to Canada who saw our ad in the paper and wanted to learn more about our flora and fauna. There were some girlfriends who were staying at Crieff for the weekend and came to see what was going on while their friends slept late. A few of us were there by ourselves. Everyone was friendly and the day felt festive.
We didn’t get very far before Brian stopped and pointed to the nets he had strung up in an open clearing. Sure enough there was a bird caught up in it: still, safe, waiting. He took out a small cotton sack and gently put the bird in it before tying it up. We repeated this process a number of times until we had almost a dozen birds.
Back in the picnic shelter, Brian (with help from his children) carefully took out each bird, weighed and measured it, and put a tiny anklet around one foot. Everything was recorded, he explained, so the migratory patterns could be tracked all through the Americas.
Once Brian was finished with each bird—blue jays, chickadees, ‘oven birds’ and the like—they needed to be released. Were there any volunteers to help? he asked. Yes! When it was my turn, Brian showed me how to hold the little bird so that it wouldn’t struggle. He slowly placed it in my hand.
A bird! I was holding a bird in my hand! The kind of bird I watch out the window every day, the kind that flies overhead and flits through the trees when I’m out for a walk! In my hand! I could feel its heart beating, tiny and fast. Its shiny eyes looked up at me. Its feathers were soft. It was completely calm.
I said, “Hi, bird!” (the most profound thing I could think of at the time) and I promised to let it go soon. The bird was very patient while I drank in the moment. I could have held it forever.
Finally I opened my hand and in a flash the little bird was gone. It flew back to the familiar trees where it is most at home and I waved goodbye.
Months later, I am still feeling the effects of that moment. Birds now are not just sparrows on the lawn or geese honking overhead. They are living, breathing creatures. They are precious and fragile, and they share the earth and sky with me. Each has its own lungs, its own pulse, its own needs, its own life. Just like me.
I wonder how different the world would be if everyone could hold a bird in their hand, feel its heart beat and look into its eyes. How different would our conversations be about extinction, or climate change, or pollution if we recognized how life pulses through every creature great and small?
I held a bird in my hand and it made a difference to me.
(If you’d like to join us at Crieff for the spring and fall bird banding events each year, keep an eye on the website. Details will be posted there as soon as they are available.)