One of the most popular stories on the BBC Website today is about a girl from Seattle who feeds crows in her garden and receives gifts from them in return.
I thought about it a little ruefully, remembering the many years in which I have put food out for birds with no tangible sign of thanks: as I reminded myself that I feed the birds to help them survive and not for my personal gain, I realised that I was doing them an injustice, for the gifts they bring are many.
Because they are used to me – and associate me with food – every time I go outside there is a chorus of birdsong and activity, particularly early in the morning when I put out their food. Blackbirds and robins, the early risers, cluck around my feet while song birds chatter a greeting from nearby hedgerows; kites, buzzards and ravens soar out from their roosts in nearby oaks, mewing and calling as they await the scraps they know will appear on an old stump in the middle of the garden, chasing away the crows that will compete for their breakfast. It is an amazing sight to see these great raptors dive down, one after the other, in front of my window to seize a piece of meat and take it away in triumph. It happens every day.
So, I am given the gift of trust, company, spectacle and conversation by birds large and small. There are physical presents too, I remember now, in the many feathers they leave for me, in the pellets they drop, the nests they build, and their very presence. My life would be much emptier without them.
It is easy to take for granted what is always around us, and it is easy to go to the other extreme and to try to give too much. Through trial and error and many mistakes I have learned the importance of feeding birds just what they need to supplement nature’s larder, nothing more; of not being controlling; of not being sentimental; of observation and not assumption; and of helping nature for its benefit and not for mine. Respecting birds, and wildlife, in this way applies to all aspects of human life. The girl from Seattle gives her food to the crows, and her gift of kindness is reciprocated perfectly: give, and you shall receive, even from birds.