White-throated Sparrow

A sparrow hit the window this morning. I was in the kitchen, photographing a Red-bellied Woodpecker that had landed below the feeders in our backyard, when I heard the sound of a feathery body striking glass. If you’ve never heard it, it’s unmistakable, the sound a small rock wrapped in soft cloth might make when thrown against your window. Though not a frequent occurrence, I recognized it instantly, and went outside to look for the bird. It would be stunned, and I wanted to get to it before a neighborhood cat or one of the hawks that patrol the area did.

I found it sitting on the grass, alert but clearly dazed—a lovely White-throated Sparrow, recently returned from its summer breeding grounds in more northerly latitudes. The bird has long been my son’s favorite sparrow, and we always delight in their reappearance each year, even though their arrival presages the cold winter months to come. This one was boldly and beautifully marked, with crisp white on its head and neck and vibrant yellow feathers in front of its eyes. I walked over and easily picked it up, holding it gently in my hand. It blinked a bit but didn’t struggle, seeming content to rest in my palm while it re-gathered its senses. Its body radiated warmth, and I felt its tiny heart hammering away through my fingertips. The sparrow weighed virtually nothing; it was exquisitely delicate.

I watched the bird as it sat there, spellbound by the perfection of form and function, every aspect supremely adapted to its lifestyle and environment. Like all birds, it needed nothing but what the world offered it—a feat of survival beyond most of us. Though we believe ourselves to be the pinnacle of evolution, superior to all others, the struggles these little birds face would confound the bulk of humanity. The sparrow was so much smaller than I, and yet its ability to survive—and thrive—unaided vastly dwarfed my own. It was both humbling and inspiring, and I stood in awe of the life force emanating from it.

After a brief respite, the sparrow recovered and flew off, and I silently thanked it as I watched it go. To know that such creatures exist, that the Earth, our home, gives succor to such extraordinary diversity, is to know wonder, to know humility, and to know joy. And to witness it, to be in its presence, is to be connected with the great energy of Life. It is to be held in the grasp of the spiritual and mystical, and to be pulled from human concern and cast into the welcoming embrace of Nature herself, wherein all things are connected, and our lives are entwined with the fate of a sparrow.