Human beings have been watching birds since the beginning of time. We know this from prehistoric art that has been found on cave walls and rock faces around the world. These winged creatures inspired early peoples to create
stories (myths) about the birds and in some cases to elevate them to a god-like status. Some were considered messengers from the gods, but others were more sacred and revered.
It is easy to understand why early humans were captivated by birds, which seemed to have magical qualities. They could cross the sky effortlessly, bringing themselves closer to the heavens, and could easily escape disasters or predators. The sounds they made were unlike anything humans could produce – although some became adept at imitation. Birds change their appearance when they molt their feathers and they would mysteriously disappear and reappear at regular intervals during a single year.
We probably know the most about the birds of Egypt, since so many images have been found in the tombs of the kings. There is Horus – son of the goddess Isis – he is often shown with the head of a falcon and the body of a man. He was god of the sky, sun and moon, as well as god of war and hunting.
Thoth is a very old and wise bird god of Egyptian times and possibly earlier. He was known for wisdom, writing, mathematics and magic. He is shown as a man with the head of an Ibis – a bird sacred to the Egyptians.
In Celtic cultures there was Morrigan – the Irish goddess of war and hunting. She is often shown as a crow. From the Welsh, we have Blodeuwedd – a bird god that is depicted as an Owl. Manannan Mac Lir is a Celtic god who appears in the form of the seagull. He is a god of the sea.
In the cultures of North and Central America we have Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of war and the sun. He is.depicted as a hummingbird or with hummingbird characteristics, including feathers and a hummingbird helmet. Aztec warriors could die in battle believing they would become hummingbirds and fly away to join Huitzilopochtli.
Native American tribes also saw birds as messengers from the Creator or go betweens for humans and the spirit world. Eagles were known as the Thunderbird, capable of bringing lightning and thunder to the earth.
Bird watchers today can still observe many of the same birds that these earlier people saw and find equal pleasure and awe in their behavior, though they do not hold the same spiritual place in our lives or cultures. Many of us bird watchers also incorporate bird art into our homes and life. This year I was able to add the most beautiful piece of sculpture to our home. It is life size Raven created by artists Pat and Ken Larson of Moose Lake, MN. He sits permanently in a place of honor on our deck.
A word of caution; in the last blog I talked about the ease and benefits of feeding birds on or near the ground. You may not want to do this if you have pet dogs. One of our friends came to our house while we were gone last week to help out with birdfeeding and watering the plants. She brought her Lab along with her and while she watered plants, Lark romped around the yard sniffing and exploring everything. Unfortunately, like many Labs, she will eat almost anything and apparently she ate most of the mixed wild bird seed that was on the stump. This resulted in a hard mass in her stomach less than 24 hours later. She ended up in emergency care, but luckily through a variety of treatments she was saved from surgery and is on her way to a full recovery. While bird’s bodies are designed to digest a variety of hard shelled seeds, dogs are not.
By Kate Crowley