Photo courtesy of Curt Morgan.
Wayward Sparrow Brings Canned Goods
to First Church Food Pantry
Early one Wednesday morning while looking in the direction of the bird feeders on our back deck, among the juncos, chickadees, nuthatches and titmice, I noticed an unusually marked (to me) sparrow. A quick check of the field guide told me it was Harris’s Sparrow, a bird that that breeds along the edge of boreal forest and tundra in north-central Canada and winters in the Great Plains, rarely venturing east of the Mississippi. This bird was way off course. Others might be interested in knowing about this, I thought. I had recently learned of a birding website called E-Bird, so I posted the information there. Little was I aware of the chain of events that would ensue. E Bird,apparently, has a lot of avid and avian-loving followers.
The local birding guru, Rich Guthrie, who has a call-in show on WAMC radio’s Vox Pop, showed up with a couple of colleagues and confirmed the sighting. “A lot of birders are going to want to see this,” he said. “Why don’t I coordinate a schedule of visits? And as away for people to say ‘thank you’ for allowing them into your backyard, I’ll put out a box and suggest that birders bring some food donations for the church’s food pantry.”
“That’s not necessary,” I said. “But it’s a nice gesture, so sure, go ahead.”
Later that day and over the course of the next several days Harris’ Sparrow admirers came from as far away as Long Island and Buffalo. Ornithologists from Cornell Lab in Ithaca paid a visit At times our backyard was host to dozens of people toting binoculars, spotting scopes, cameras, and telephoto lenses—as well as canned goods and cash donations for the First Church food pantry.
It’s not the first time a bird has brought food to the hungry. When the prophet Elijah was hiding from King Ahab, God commanded ravens to bring him a daily ration of bread and meat. (I Kings 17). In fact, this little sparrow has been instrumental in helping people obey a trinity of Biblical commands: “Look at the birds of the air” (Matthew 6), “extend hospitality to strangers” (Romans 12), and “share your bread with the hungry” (Isaiah 58).
As I write this, “Harry” is still in residence, although intermittently and elusively. You are welcome to come and have a look. Bring your binoculars—and a couple of cans of vegetables or boxes of macaroni.