Middle school is an awkward time for some of us. I predominantly remember the smell of Axe body-spray filling the locker room as we teenage boys attempted to cover our 6th grade-armpit-stench with a more “pleasing” aroma. But, aside from inhaling noxious aerosol fumes every day, middle school was an overall positive experience for me. It was where I began to develop a unique passion that would change my life and the life of those around me: birds.
I was born and raised in the small town of Los Angeles, California[i]. We lived in a semi-rural community within the city limits called Shadow Hills. It may surprise you that such an environment is conducive to forming a person curious about the natural world, but be not quick to judge! Plenty of little critters find a home in my neck of the woods (cottontails, ‘possums, coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, and even a black bear[ii] have been seen by myself and/or neighbors). In fact, Los Angeles County is considered to be the “birdiest” county in the United States with over 500+ species reported living in or migrating through the area[iii]. Not bad for one county considering that the American Birding Association (ABA) checklist accepts close to 1,000 species across the entire North American continent[iv]. All this to say that the stage was set for a young boy to discover the world around him.
As a child, I always loved wildlife and the outdoors. My family traveled to national parks and monuments all over the country including the Everglades, the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Alaska, and more[v]. Throughout these years, I remember flipping through my parents’ bird books and examining the all the different pictures and illustrations of birds, but it wasn’t until around the end of elementary school/beginning of middle school that my interest truly began to peak. I distinctly remember buying (with my dad’s money) my mom a birdbath for Mother’s Day. She loved it, but in the long run, I think it was really a gift to me. I would sit on my parents’ bed and peek through the blinds to watch all the birds gather and splash in the cool water. It attracted all sorts of birds: finches, sparrows, doves, jays, crows, woodpeckers, hawks, you name it. I bought various specialized bird feeders, and pretty soon, I had a little bird sanctuary going on in our front yard. Fast forward about ten years through bird courses in undergrad, various summer field jobs, and even a peer-reviewed research publication, and here I am studying woodpeckers at Utah State University.
Now, at 23 ½ years old[vi], I live in Logan, Utah with my sweetheart wife, Jess, and our adopted two-year-old, Bandit (he’s a cat). Currently, I am pursuing my Master’s degree in Ecology at the University while researching the nesting success/failure of the black-backed (Picoides arcticus) and white-headed woodpecker (Picoides albolarvatus). My newest pursuit of birds is this blog.
I must give credit to two sources that inspired me to begin this project. First, a shout-out to master eBirder, fellow grad student, and neighbor Andrew Durso. Andrew is the academic every student aspires to be, and his blog “Life is Short, But Snakes are Long” is a fine piece of engaging, scientific writing for all audiences. His blog has been read by quite a few folks and published in some influential places. His success has inspired me to write about things that I believe in and want others to think about. To be honest, as long as one person reads this and ponders it for a while, that will be good enough for me.
Second, and more towards the purpose of this blog, I must acknowledge the ideas from the book The Birds, Our Teachers, written by fellow birder and theologian John Stott. This book has many invaluable lessons on how God can teach us through His birds. In my life, God comes first before anything else. As a Christian, my primary duty is to share the love and truth of God through Jesus Christ to the world and all its inhabitants. God has given me a passion to study birds, and hopefully, through this blog, I can use that passion to bring some praise to His name, spread the Good News of His perfect love, and to encourage the continual care of His creation.
The next few installments will concentrate on the four main reasons I love birds and how I believe God shines through them. I will focus on how God uses birds to teach us that 1) we are always cared for, 2) we are each uniquely created, 3) we are free in His grace, and 4) we all need friends. I have no idea how this little project will turn out, but hopefully God can use a middle-school boy’s dream to show others how faith and feather flock together.
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” – I Corinthians 10:31 (ESV)
[i] At a teeny-tiny population of a little over 3.9 million, Los Angeles is only an infinitesimal 0.05% of the total estimated world population of 7.3 billion! Hey, isn’t everything relative?
[ii] Technically, I “saw” the black bear when the sound of news helicopters woke me up at 7 a.m. and we turned on the TV to see a black bear running around our neighborhood.
[v] I can proudly say that I am a Junior Ranger at over 40 National Parks, Monuments, Historical Sites, and Recreational Areas. My latest enrollment was at Saguaro National Park in Arizona last summer with my dad.
[vi] Half-birthdays are a big deal in my family. We usually celebrate with half a cake and a white elephant-esque gift.