LoraKim Joyner: Why dedicate a day to the birds?

Published: Sunday, January 4, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 3, 2009 at 2:12 p.m.

Tomorrow, Monday, January 5th, we have the chance to celebrate National Bird Day!

Perhaps you wonder why dedicate an entire day to birds when the economy is in recession, war and terrorism continue across the globe, and climate change and habitat destruction threatens our very existence.

When we interact with other species we come closer to understanding what it means to be human in communities of mixed species, and can then draw upon our human potential to respond accordingly. We will change our destructive habits not so much when we are told to do so, but when we want to.

This compassionate engagement with the world comes from understanding the deep interconnection we share with life, and bird watching is a relaxing, available, healing, comforting, and fun way for all ages to engage with the world around us.

I recently returned from Puerto Rico where I witnessed the release of captive raised Puerto Rico parrots into the wild. When Christopher Columbus first arrived on that island, over 500 years ago, there were an estimated 1 million individuals of this green and red parrot. By the 1970's they numbered only in the teens. Through many years of hard work there are now about 260 in captivity and in the wild.

Once the Carolina Parakeet, North America's only native parrot species, flew in numbers that "darkened the sky," as did flocks of Puerto Rican parrots. Now the only thing that remains of them are paintings, stuffed skins, and one remaining nest of eggs long dead in the Florida Natural History Museum here in Gainesville.

Ironically, the eggs from this last remaining nest in Florida were "collected" not to preserve the species, but to advance the wealth and status of egg collectors many decades ago.

If we only knew then what we do now, here in Alachua County we could still witness the deep rich diversity of native birds and peoples living abundantly with us today, freeing our hearts and imaginations as we fly with the birds.

As a bird veterinarian, conservationist, and minister I have come to see that liberating the human heart cannot be segregated from the well being of all life.

How do we live in that polarizing tension and still manage to walk in beauty and treat one another out of love when we are also called to compete within nature's web for our secure spot? The answer comes to me not so much in words, but in feathered wonder that brings awareness of the breath-taking and what some would call the sacred interconnection of life.

In that vision is the glory of what we might do together, and I pray we will do together, here in Alachua County.

We might not be able to save all species, but we might just save one, and in so doing we might just save ourselves as we savor the world. So this week, I invite you to join with millions of others across this continent to enjoy and preserve the beauty of our native birds. Visit one of the locations of the Great Florida Birding Trail, join others on an Alachua Audubon bird trip, or walk along the La Chua Trail and behold thousands of Sandhill Cranes.

They are the oldest known species of bird and they are right here literally in our own backyard. Hearing them croak as they fly over Gainesville we harken back to a wilder time, and our hearts might remember a wildness that will set us free from the prison of the daily grind and that which binds us.

You might also wish to engage in conservation efforts.

There are plenty of birds who need our help. One quarter of all U.S. birds are at risk, including our own Florida Scrub Jay.

To find out what you can do visit Alachua Audubon at http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/aud. I also invite you to join our congregation today, Sunday, January 4th, at 11 a.m. for our annual bird service.

Rev. Dr. LoraKim Joyner is minister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville

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