In the Company of Birds

Birds have brought lessons of patience, co-operation, hope, and perseverance. (Photos by Sr. Maggie Beaudette, CSJ)

By Sr. Maggie Beaudette, CSJ

Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King, and my God. – Psalm 84

Throughout the year, a variety of birds spend time in my yard.

This past summer I was visited by pairs of purple finch, western tanager and rose-breasted grosbeak. I was delighted when a pair of yellow-bellied sapsuckers decided to build their home in a poplar tree close to my back deck. I was able to observe them every day as they tapped for two weeks making a hole for their nest. Before I knew it, the chirping of baby birds could be heard. I watched as the parents took turns bringing food to their young.

As autumn set in, many birds began migrating and the yard was quiet and empty, almost lonely. But soon, as the snow arrived, the winter birds returned. Nine to 12 varieties of birds visit the feeders every day. The vibrant colours of the summer flowers are replaced by the warm colours of rose, rust and ruby feathers.

Set against the whiteness of the snow, the male pine grosbeak is resplendent in his rose plumage with silver- gray wings. The common redpoll sports a beautiful ruby patch on its head. On a sunny day it shines like a jewel.

Last March, the snow buntings visited the front deck for almost two weeks. It is difficult to see these little birds up close since they swirl and fly quickly as you come near them. I was able to see the beautiful brown dotted necklace on their breast. What a treat!

Birds have taught me many lessons over the years. Two experiences are very vivid in my memory. The first memory happened in the summer of 1972. I was making a 30-day retreat prior to my profession of Final Vows. As I was walking on the grounds of the retreat centre, I came upon an adult robin lying on the ground under a tree. At first glance, I thought it was injured. But I could also hear chirping coming from above. I watched in amazement as the mother robin would raise one wing and lower it and then chirp to the young chick on a branch in the tree. The little one would stand, flaps its wings, and then promptly sit down. This went on for several minutes. I presume the chick did eventually fly as I continued my walk.

The second memory is more recent. I was experiencing grief as my sister had recently died quite unexpectedly. A redpoll had hit the front window. The sound of the thump alerted me to look in the snow. The tiny bird was lying there. I went out, picked it up from the snow and cupped its body in my hands. If this happens soon enough, often the bird will recover its breath. For several minutes there was no change. I was thinking that this one had hit the window too hard. But then, I felt the tiny beat of its heart. It was an incredible moment. Keeping the bird on its side in my cupped hand I soon felt it begin to move its wings. When the fluttering seemed stronger, I opened my hands, and the redpoll flew away.

As I reflect, lessons of patience, co-operation, hope, and perseverance come to mind. My heart is filled with gratitude to the Creator for the beauty, variety, and companionship of these feathered friends. I appreciate why Jesus used parables to teach.

The season of Advent has been likened to a nest. A nest provides shelter, comfort, and new life.

The last nine months of the COVID-19 virus have been stressful. There has been loss, uncertainty, anxiety, but also opportunities for new ways of seeing and living life.

As I prepare my heart this Advent season, my “nest” will be made of the “twigs of my everyday life” for the indwelling of my God.


Sr. Maggie Beaudette, CSJ, has lived and served in the north for some 32 years, including the past 22 years in Hay River, NT, on the south shore of the Great Slave Lake in the Catholic Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith. She is a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph in Canada.