A chickadee may have a bird-brain, but it can actually be pretty smart.
Especially if it lives in a harsh climate.
What does climate have to do with bird intelligence? As it turns out, more than you’d expect.
Biologists have discovered that chickadees living in the mountains or in northern latitudes, where the weather is more severe, were smarter than their peers living more comfortably down below.
Chickadees from harsher habitats had superior spatial memories and problem-solving abilities than those living in gentler climes. They were better at finding stored caches of food and at figuring out how to access a worm treat that scientists had cleverly tucked into a glass tube.
The harsh environment makes their brains work a bit harder.
Is there a lesson for humans in the example of the chickadees?
Yes, but it isn’t to move to a more wintry climate (take it from a Canadian who’s done her share of shovelling snow—it hasn’t made me smarter!).
The takeaway here is that there can be unseen benefits to the challenges we face.
One of the greatest natural events on Earth is now underway: the migration of the monarch butterfly.
Each fall, millions of these colourful insects set off from their summer breeding grounds in the northeastern U.S. and Canada for a gruelling journey. They travel thousands of miles across North America all the way to Mexico, where they’ll spend the winter.
Many people believe that the monarch butterflies which leave in the fall are the same ones which arrive back in the spring, but this isn’t so. Individual butterflies don’t make the entire round-trip journey. The ones which migrate from the northeastern part of North America in fall will never return.
Rather, their great-great-grandchildren are the ones who will arrive the following spring, as successive generations keep making their way north. The entire annual migration cycle of the monarch takes about four generations.
Perhaps I’m being fanciful, but I can imagine monarch butterflies telling their children of the awesome journey they’ll be undertaking. They may say that they’ll only be able to go part of the way with them, but to keep the faith and keep going.
Maybe they encourage their children to tell successive generations to keep believing in the promise of return. Because eventually, their descendants will see the promise fulfilled.
Usually, the first signs of fall are visual: the leaves on trees start to redden, the fall asters begin blooming, and the sun is at a noticeably lower angle.
But sometimes you can hear the onset of fall.
Today at The Faith Cafe we could hear the sound of Canada geese honking at each other as they flew overhead, preparing to fly south for the winter. They’ll fly to warmer climes in their iconic V-formation, honking the whole trip.
But why do they honk at one another as they undertake their momentous journey, and why fly in a V-shape at all?
The lessons geese can teach us have long been used in leadership seminars, but I think they apply to our Christian walk as well.
Flowers speak. Not just through their fragrance or their beauty, but with secret codes, too.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the “language of flowers” popular during Victorian times? This enchanting symbolic language enabled suitors to send coded messages to their paramours, ones that couldn’t be spoken aloud. The message depended on the particular flowers and colours chosen for the bouquet. An entire conversation could be carried out solely through flowers, with no words employed at all.
We all know that red roses symbolize true love, and we’d rightly guess that the forget-me-not begs that the giver be remembered. But did you know the following flower meanings?
Red carnation: My heart aches for you Hyacinth: Your loveliness charms me Canterbury bell: Your letter received Yellow rose: Jealousy Butterfly weed: Let me go Weeping willow: Sadness
The Victorian language of flowers is a cryptic tongue. Most people only see the surface of the flower and not the symbolic meaning hidden within it.
God has His own “language of flowers,” but it actually encompasses all of creation. God is continually speaking to us through nature:
“For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.” (Romans 1:20 NLT)
“The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship.” (Psalm 19:1 NLT)
If we listened in to what nature was saying about its Creator, what messages would be revealed?
I don’t seem to have much luck getting birds to cooperate with me.
Years ago, I bought a Victorian-style birdhouse, and painted it light blue with white trim. I nailed it to a tree where I could see it when sitting at my kitchen table. I imagined the delight I’d have watching birds move in and raise their young there. I couldn’t wait for my new feathered neighbours!
But the birds refused to move in.
Year after year, the pretty birdhouse sat empty. I was so disappointed. What ingrates those birds were! And after all the trouble I’d gone to for them!
The problem was, I’d put the birdhouse where I wanted it, with no thought to their needs.
The birdhouse was pretty, certainly, but its placement didn’t suit the birds one bit. Being nailed to a tree made it too accessible to predators like squirrels or raccoons. The birds didn’t feel safe nesting there.
I thought the problem was with the birds, but it was with me. I’d done it all on my terms and expected them to get with the program.
Don’t we sometimes do the same with God?
We want to do things on our terms, in our own way, and expect God to get with our program. I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way.
Being nocturnal, bats search for food at night, but their night vision is fairly poor. So instead they use echolocation, or reflected sound, to home in on insects such as moths. Their built-in sonar directs them to the precise location of the tasty morsels; then it’s just a matter of swooping in and gobbling them up.
So the bats’ prey have to be crafty as well.
Certain species of tiger moth have the ability to emit sonar of their own. As a bat is closing in, the moth emits a fusillade of ultrasonic clicks. This barrage blurs and disrupts the bat’s echolocation: the signal is essentially jammed. The baffled hunter can no longer “see” the moth, and is tricked into thinking its target has vanished. Thwarted, the hungry predator flies away, and the prey is safe.
Our little tiger moth beats its enemy at its own game.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could “jam the signal” of the enemy of our soul? If we could disrupt and counter the lies the world tells us about ourselves?
Is there a colour more exquisite than robin’s-egg blue? If there is, I’m not aware of it.
To me, the tiny oval of a robin’s egg is perfection itself. Its soft blue-green hue seems to evoke a feeling of serenity. And the shape of the egg itself, all gentle curves, seems to echo this calmness.
I’d love to keep it that way forever, just so, and never see it broken.
There’s only one problem with this: if the egg stayed intact, a baby robin would never be born.
Sometimes we have to break something we cherish for an even more beautiful thing to come into being.
Did you know that some birds and bees can see things that are completely invisible to us? They’re able to see in infrared, just beyond the wavelengths of the visible light spectrum that human eyes can detect.
What looks to us like a regular pink flower might resemble a helicopter landing pad to a bee. Where we see only the uniform expanse of one colour, the bee may see a target-shaped design of several differently coloured concentric circles. The bee’s infrared vision allows it to home in on the most nectar-rich part of the flower.
The world looks completely different when you can see in infrared.
I sometimes think that God sees us in “infrared.” He can see things in us that are invisible to others, and even to ourselves.
The lockdowns associated with the coronavirus pandemic have produced some unexpected results in the natural world.
With fewer vehicles and industrial machines operating, noise pollution has been reduced so dramatically that seismologists can hear sounds from inside the planet that they couldn’t detect previously.
In cities, reduced traffic noise is allowing people to hear birdsong, the chatter of squirrels, and the chirping of crickets like never before. People have been surprised to discover that they can now hear the flapping of birds’ wings as they pass overhead.
A quieter environment is probably also allowing animals to hear each other better. City birds usually have to sing more loudly than their country cousins to make themselves heard above the urban cacophony: perhaps their mates and rivals can hear them more easily now. With a reduction in ship traffic, marine mammals might also be finding that they can contact each other with greater ease now that there is less “acoustic smog” in the oceans.
If we can hear the creation better during the lockdowns, and creation can hear itself better, can we hear our Creator better?
For over a century, two marble lions have guarded the main branch of the New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan. These majestic stone creatures flank the entrance to the building, keeping careful watch over all who enter.
During the 1930s the library lions were officially named “Patience” and “Fortitude” by then-mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. He felt that those names embodied the qualities that New Yorkers would need to survive the Great Depression of that era.
If ever there was a time when New Yorkers (and indeed all of us) again need patience and fortitude, it’s during the COVID-19 crisis. New York has been struck particularly hard by this pandemic, but they are pulling through in large part thanks to the selfless health care workers who have done their utmost to guard the health and welfare of those under their care.
We still need guardians, don’t we? Particularly during times like these.