Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Christmas Bird Story - The Man and The Birds


The Man and the Birds

-- Author Unknown --

(Shared by Paul Harvey on his radio show)


Below is a story that didn't end the way I
thought it would, could, or should.  So I
have added words at the end to represent my heart's hope for human and bird

the man to whom I'm going to introduce you was not a scrooge, he was a kind,
decent, mostly good man. Generous to his family, upright in his dealings with
other men. But he just didn't believe all that incarnation stuff which the
churches proclaim at Christmas Time. It just didn't make sense and he was too
honest to pretend otherwise. He just couldn't swallow the Jesus Story, about
God coming to Earth as a man. "I'm truly sorry to distress you," he
told his wife, "but I'm not going with you to church this Christmas
Eve." He said he'd feel like a hypocrite. That he'd much rather just stay
at home, but that he would wait up for them. And so he stayed and they went to
the midnight service.

after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the
window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and then went back to
his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper. Minutes later he was
startled by a thudding sound. Then another, and then another. Sort of a thump
or a thud. At first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his
living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate he found
a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They'd been caught in the storm
and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large
landscape window.

he couldn't let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the
barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter,
if he could direct the birds to it. Quickly he put on a coat, galoshes, tramped
through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on
a light, but the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them in.
So he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the
snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted wide open doorway of the stable. But
to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs, and continued to flap around
helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them. He tried shooing them into the
barn by walking around them waving his arms. Instead, they scattered in every
direction, except into the warm, lighted barn.

then, he realized, that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a
strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them
know that they can trust me. That I am not trying to hurt them, but to help
them. But how? Because any move he made tended to frighten them, confuse them.
They just would not follow. They would not be led or shooed because they feared
him. "If only I could be a bird," he thought to himself, "and
mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be
afraid. Then I could show them the way to safety ... to the safe warm barn. But
I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and

that moment the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above
the sounds of the wind. And he stood there listening to the bells - Adeste
Fidelis - listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. And he
sank to his knees in the snow.....

(This is the end
of regular story. What happened to the birds?  And so I add...)

And became a bird.

The word made bird

And love was born

Monday, December 14, 2009

BirdsEye Application


  (New York State Tower Kill Survey)

I read about the recent iPhone application that
helps users know where to look for specific birds and to get recent bird
spotting reports.  Here once again I am
reminded of the ambiguity of technology. 
On one hand  communication towers,
which iPhones rely upon, kill from 4 to 50 million birds a year. They endanger
or threaten at least 50 species. 
Technology might also shift brain processes so that when we see birds we
are not being in open, heart communion with another being, but have shifted
into "left brain" thinking that is largely cognitive and might see
birds as objects, and not subjects worthy in their essence without being part
of a bird list.  On the other hand,
applications such as this can help draw us out into nature, communicate and
share that experience with others, and also use our cognitive functions to keep
track of the range and status of numerous species. 

I am not arguing for either/or in our relationship
with birds, but to put as many tools as possible in our hands for the good life
for our communities of mixed species. 
Then we can choose what we feel is best for us and others.

Let us have in our hands iPhones, bird recordings,
field identification books, binoculars, cameras, and spotting scopes so that we
may know the world around us.

Let us have in our hands a child's hand, listening
and attentive to them as we share the experience directed outward so that we
may know one another and the whole of nature.

Let us have in our hands books, keyboards, internet
articles, newspapers, scientific journals, scripture from faith traditions,
conference proceedings, journals, and nature writings so that we may know our
inner world, and how humanity impacts the outer world.

Let us have in our hands, tenderly held, the needs
of life expressed in bird and human.

Let us have in our hands injured, sick, or captive
birds so that they may be healed and fly free.

Let us hand in our hands the millions of people who
appreciate birds so that we, in solidarity, may know the power of what we may do

For we have in our hands the future of our feathered



Monday, December 7, 2009

Shedding Tears for Birds


White-eyed Conure (photo by Dario Sanchez)



was a White-eyed Conure that I meant to rescue from a California pet store when
I turned 19.  He was there, wild and
green, frantically pacing his cage as dozens of pairs of eyes ogled his beauty
through cage wire and plate glass.  I
don’t know how he came to be there and in those days I barely wondered.  So fierce was his incomprehensibility of his
captivity and indeed, his captors, I later suspected that he had been an adult
bird in the wild when he had been cruelly removed from home and flock in South


boyfriend at the time saw my eyes light up with desire for this bird.  He bought Bilbo for my birthday.  Bilbo and I never became friends.  He was too wild for that and perhaps I was
too, spending much of my time at college and work, and when free time presented
itself, I did not spend it at home with this bright beauty.  Despite his neglect he survived until I
graduated from the University of California at Davis with a degree in Avian
Sciences – birds.  I had a degree in
birds, but not as yet much of a degree of understanding birds.  Bilbo had been with me for three years at
that time.  I left him in the care of the
owners of a struggling bird farm while I toured around the country with  a man who would become my first husband. We
visited 48 states and 2 countries in those 2.5 months – and I don’t think I
often thought of Bilbo.  When I returned
to Davis I was told that Bilbo had been kept in a shed and that one day he had
been discovered dead after the owners had been gone for a weekend.  He had died alone, cause unknown, holy
purpose of a life well lived apparently never accomplished.  Except perhaps he did leave this world with
one poignant and painful point – do not forsake a bird, for the loss shall
dwell within you forever.


Have you ever
had to juggle multiple claims on your time, and felt remiss that you have not
fully been present in each activity? 
What do you desire, which attaining might harm other beings? 


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Suspended Wren - Suspended Life



weekend I was walking along a small lake in Orlando Florida and came upon a
dead wren suspended by it’s beak from a cattail reed.  It was somewhat bloated and desiccated, its feathers disshelved
making identification of it difficult – perhaps a sedge or marsh wren.  What was more perplexing was how the bird
came to be in this position.  Did it get
its beak jammed in the reed, unable to free itself?  Did a shrike do its impaling thing by stuffing the bird by its
beak into the small crevice?  Or did a
human come by and find a dead bird or even an injured one, and hang it by it’s
beak as a unbidden, subconscious ritual harkening from million years of primate
evolution?  I walked away from the bird
with more questions than answers, for the life of the wren and for my own life.


do we get to be in the positions we find ourselves?  How do we live in the unknown, mysterious liminal world where we
hang between birth and death and knowing and not knowing, unable to affect the
outcome or know what the outcome will be? 
There are moments in our lives where we are suspended from our daily
concerns, often in times of confusion and pain, and we can but swing in the
wind like the wren, beauty caught in some mysterious pattern with decay and
death all around.  Will your end come
from bad luck or unfortunate accident, a force or natural process of nature, or
from intentional mal intent from our own species? 


matter where we find ourselves I wonder then if in the unbidden tragedies or
our life, we can let go to the mystery, so deeper connections of beauty and
compassion can emerge. 


wren on a reed

we all have a need

to be freed


Cowritten with my sister Linda Joyner

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The 99 Most Beautiful Names of God and 100 Names of Birds


(From Album "A Hundred Birds" by Sylvi Alli)

The Sufis, which I also consider myself, recite names or
divine attributes of God as part of their spiritual practice.   These
names are archetypical qualities that exist in our species and with work, each
of can manifest these attributes in our self, which is a reflection of the
entire realm of Existence and possibility. 
If we can "see reality" in all its beauty and tragedy, we will
be able to reflect that beauty that exists within All, and that gives every
being a chance for healing with just our very existence.


This past week Dr. Caleb Gordon, a member of my Unitarian
Universalist congregation led the regular Sunday morning birding group to
sighting it's 100th bird species.  In
seeing the list of bird names they seemed to me to be the most beautiful names
I've had the gratitude to recite.  These
flying birds are divine attributes of our world and in holding them in mind and
heart, they enable me to reflect more of the beauty that connects us all. 

What helps you see the best in yourself, others, and the
What do you do to reflect this knowing outward for healing?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Coyote Sparing and Sparring



Growing up I saw a lot of Wiley Coyote cartoons.  The coyote was sparring with the road runner and always ended up harmed in some way, and never caught the bird.  These days in the news we are hearing that coyotes are proving more successful, catching more and more prey. Around Gainesville, Florida where I live there are reports that they are killing outdoor cats, and while visiting Canada, the newspapers told of how two coyotes attacked and killed singer Taylor Luciow.  She had been hiking alone in a National Park when the two came upon her.  The singer’s mother today asks that the coyotes be spared, saying “We take a calculated risk when spending time in nature’s fold – it’s the wildlife’s terrain.” 


Coyotes, birds, cats, and humans all end up harmed in some way no matter how we live or die and this earth is all our terrain.  How then do we negotiate this complex arrangement we call life?  For me I see an example in the pain of this daughter and this mother.  We risk to be in beauty and keep our hearts open to one another, no matter the loss.  In this way we may dare to care.



Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Magpies, Parrots, Flickers, and Fathers - All God's Children Grieve


This past week an article appeared about magpies grieving
for their dead Mail OnLine I don't know if anyone can say what emotions
another species is experiencing, let alone another of our own species,
human.  By studying avian behavior,
however, it does seem to me that birds do experience emotion, and part of those
emotions may include sadness, confusion, and loneliness. When working as an
avian veterinarian, I've seen parrots whose mates have died going into
"mourning" by being quiet, still, and refusing to eat for a day or
longer.  I imagine that bird brains, like
our own, need to rewire after losing another individual that was so much a part
of a social, cultural, and neural network. 
This liminal time we humans know as grieving.

Once when a teenager 
I saw a Northern Flicker grieving. 
I was a teenager on an errand with my father driving when the car in
front of us struck a flicker.  The mate
that had been flying ahead, turned, and flew back to the ground to stand by his
companion.  My father stopped the car to
see if there was anything we could do.  There wasn't. 
Her beauty was now stilled.   We could not believe that the male  bird did not fly away as we approached, his
quiet stillness beyond words.  I could
never really guess what my father was thinking or feeling, he being  rather stoic and undemonstrative.  On this occasion he had tears trailing down
his face to see such sadness and loss, echoed in his own heart I do believe.

I never asked him what the dead bird meant to him, or the
loyalty of her mate.  I did not ask the surviving
flicker either.  Furthermore, science and
cognitive ethology may never answer what magpies or parrots experience.   But whatever other experience, I do believe
that emotions are the substance that makes up interspecies communion that sounds
along the ages as echoes of loss and joy in our hearts.


 Norther Flicker

Monday, October 12, 2009

Speciesist Reporting in Gainesville Sun


The confluence of articles on the front page of the "Local
and State" section of the Gainesville Sun October 11th, 2009 tells us much
about humanity. The news portrayed how we care for and admire plants, bats , and
dogs, and also our own species as we muddle through our health care reform
attempts.  Embedded on this page though
were children chasing a pig, as intelligent and feeling as the dog, and a man
cooking pigs and chickens, who feel, suffer, and have inherent worth and
dignity comparable to the other species mentioned.   We are a remarkable species in how much we
can care for those unlike us, and our ability to form relationships and see
beauty around us is an incredible resource to enrich our lives and other beings
on this planet.  It is a resource that is
underused and undervalued.  My dream for
the beloved community of all species is that we might grow our inclinations of concern
and compassion in a more consistent and thoughtful fashion.   I 
mourn that we do not examine our speciesist views that assign
more value to some species, and hence treat other species with less respect.  I lament not just the immense suffering of
other species, but of our own.  When we
treat others as objects and not as beautiful beings we live in denial that we
make tragic choices in our lives that negatively and painfully impact other
species, environments, and human communities. 
Because of this denial we perpetuate the misconceived notion that the
desires of the powerful  naturally trump
the flourishing of the less powerful, and this hurts us all.  For deep down, I believe that we all long for
a beautiful world of peace and health for everyone, and if we can live according
to these values, we would find greater joy and satisfaction.

(shortened version of this appeared as a letter to the editor

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Downside of Spirituality - Guest Minister Rev. Meredith Garmon

My cominister Rev. Meredith Garmon delivered this sermon on September 27, 2009 at the Unitarian Univeralist Fellowship of Gainesville (audio below for listening or for downloading.  Written manuscript available upon request or for UUFG members on the website:  UUFG).  I followed his sermon with some spontaneous comments; the written excerpt follows below.

    For me the "downside of spirituality" is that our various practices often do not tell us how to deal with the pain, hurt, and suffering that exists in the  world.  If spirituality means we are to open our hearts and minds to all that is, this means that we must make meaning not just of beauty, but of tragedy, and the tragic choices each of us makes, or that our communties and species makes.  How do we do this?

    I got a glimpse how one person answers this this past weekend.  I had the honor to officiate a godparenting ceremony outdoors at Payne's Prairie State Park. Before the ceremony began a park ranger walked up with a whip on his belt, "to control gators" he replied when asked about it's function.  He watched the ceremony and at the end he said:

   "I don't know if your bible is my bible. But my bible says 'to walk circumspectly.' Out here at night walking around under the stars you never know what is around the corner - lizards, snakes, gators, bison, horses, feral pigs.  There is much that can harm you and you've got to be careful.  I mean, I don't think we can stop what's coming, the bad stuff, but we can walk carefully to ward off some of it.  And as we go, we walk under those beautiful stars."

   So maybe spirituality helps us walk open to beauty and to tragedy, and my guess is that there is so much beauty that it might just be harder to make meaning of the incredible beauty than the immense tragedy." 

    How do you hold the pain? 

    Is it worth trying to grow your awareness of interconnection, to both beauty and tragedy when you can't stop the tragedy?

    How can you grow your sense of interconnection and meaning with others?


Download Downside of Spirituality


(Payne's Prairie)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Begin Again in Love

This is an excerpt of a sermon delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville, September 20, 2009. 

For the full sermon, listen to it or download it at the end of this short piece.


(Brown Booby - photo by Aviceda)


What does that mean to begin again in love?  For me, love means never having to say you’re sorry.  I don’t think I’m the first to say that, or think it.  What love means to me is that we are in love with this awesome world – with God, with earth, with oceans and thunder, with family and friends.  It is being in love that leads us to make amends with others, to find ways to change our behavior and to care.


We don’t say we’re sorry or ask forgiveness because we or others are “bad.” That’s not the dream of our 1st principle in Unitarian Universalism which is the inherent worth and dignity of all people.  We yearn for forgiveness because we want to be part of something special, something glorious; we want to be part of this awesome world.  If we can just awake to the beauty within that touches the beauty without we can find healing, atonement, be at one. 


Have you ever been held in that sweet embrace of wonder?  For me it’s swimming in fresh water spring or ocean, held in waves and flow as if in a womb or being born in beauty.  In that moment of purple eel below and brown booby flying above, everything is perfect, even my fumbling and bumbling.  In touching the source of awe and wonder, we forgive ourselves and each other.


Born out of awe and wonder, shorn of our ego’s pride, reborn in humble adoration, may we make our days glad together.



Download Rosh Hashanah 2009 sermon

(To download, click here.  You might need to "right click" and "save target as")


Monday, September 21, 2009

Piracy and Morality



In celebration of International Talk Like a Pirate Day I facilitated a service on Piracy and Morality at the Unitarian Univeralist Fellowship of Gainesville.  The audio recording of the sermon follows below.


Let me lift up the issues of piracy regarding the nonhuman aspects of our communities.  If piracy means taking what belongs to others, often from the sense that “the world owes me a living,” where in your life do you feel that we are stealing from the earth and her beings?  What if we became Universal Pirates, and not just pirates following a code of ethics that serves individual needs or smaller community needs?  What if our every action was based on an orientation to the common good, to biodiversity, to sustainability, and to animal welfare (including humans)?  In this way I’d say let’s become pirates, matey, revolutionaries who take back what belongs to us all by giving back to what belongs to no one. 



(Photograph from "Pirates and Parties")

Download Piracy and Morality Sermon


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Hate Language Flung at Birds


Starling philip heron

European Starling (Photo by Philip Heron)


The Associated Press ran an article “North America’s Most Hated Bird Wreaks Havoc” one week ago.  The reporter compared the European starling’s presence in North America to a Hitchcock movie, described it’s dropping as “corrosive and foul-smelling,” and called their swirling mumurations “intimidating statements.”  It reported the starling’s nuisance qualities and never once said anything about the positive aspects of the bird, such as the species’ inherent worth, dignity, and beauty, the bird’s helpful impact on certain insect populations through foraging, and their song and language abilities.   For me this seemed a case of biased reporting, if not just incomplete, and for my part, disheartening to see the word “hated” referring to any living being.  To do so spreads disconnection and denial of responsibility, and leads to heart constriction instead of compassionate opening which we so desperately need to deal with the complex issues that confound we humans.  What might you feel if the title ran, “World’s most hated religion wreaks havoc,” or “South American’s most hated indigenous culture population surges?”  I know that life is difficult for our species and we make difficult decisions that harm other life to support our own, however, I long that we do so with awareness of the wondrous beauty all around us, in us, and flying above us.  If we could do this, we might, just might, find a way to reduce our harm and see these mumurations as prayerful love language flung throughout the skies to make us ever more wise.  May it be so.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Common Good - An Ever Living Stream

This is a homily I deliverd on August 30, 2009 for the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville.  For this Annual Ingathering and Water Communion I spoke of how we give messages to one another that have far ranging consequences.  What messages will you choose to give to life this day? 

May goodness flow with you all the days of your life.


Download Water Messages Homily

(may need to "right click" and then "save target as")

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Healing Arts and Hearts of Science

Sermon Delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville

August 23, 2009

Rev. LoraKim Joyner, D.V.M.





(may need to "right click" and then "save target as")

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ten Things You Can Do To Promote Avian Conservation

Ara macao Melvin Mérida WCS.


1. Join or support an avian conservation team or project

Avian veterinary medical skills are not the only offering for avian conservation. If you have skills in fundraising, publicity, graphic design, translation, photography and video recording, editing and writing, website design, biology, climbing, or handling birds you may find a spot in the field, or working remotely as part of the support staff. If you do not have a lot of time, expertise, or mobility you can also participate in local bird counts such as the Great Backyard Bird Count or the Audubon Annual Christmas Bird Count. 

2. Donate resources to avian conservation

There are a plethora of worthwhile avian conservation projects to which you can donate supplies, equipment, and funds. You can donate to a metaconservation group, such as Bird Life International, the National Audubon Society, or the American Bird Conservancy or familiarize yourself with smaller specialty groups such as Parrots International and World Parrot Trust. Whatever you decide to do, check the organization’s website for its mission, objectives, and financial reports.

  3.  Know the origin, ecology and behavior of any bird you work with or wish to acquire.

Use books, articles, videos, interviews, and the Internet. See the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) for their global list of endangered and threatened birds as well as the North American list of endangered and threatened birds published by the Cornell Ornithology Laboratory.

The well being of birds and the environments in which they live is directly related to the health of human communities. For instance, poverty and loss of biodiversity are intimately linked. Avian conservation efforts increasingly include human health in their research objectives. It is more difficult to procure information about human communities in relation to birds, but start with Bird Life International and RARE Conservation.

4. Promote education and awareness in others

Offer information about avian conservation in your clinic. Play videos from or bird conservation sites. Provide brochures and handouts about avian conservation at home and abroad, and frame posters on conservation.  Have a computer available to search for and display conservation projects. Sell books and other items that support avian conservation projects. Share with others what you know about the status of birds in the wild. Engage in social and informational networks like Twitter and Facebook, and offer presentations to local civic and community groups, including bird clubs and veterinary associations.

  5.  Care for birds in captivity while questioning their existence in captivity

One of the best ways to “conserve birds” is to care adequately for those already in our midst.  To do so we need to understand their complex natures as best we can so we can provide them with an enriching and healthy environment.  In reality, there is no way an artificially constructed environment can match the evolved adaptations of a bird to a complex ecological and social niche. 

     For this reason, one must consider carefully the moral obligations humans have whenever they consider having a wild animal in captivity.  For many, the question is not how to provide the good life for a bird, but whether most bird species should be in captivity in the first place.  Understanding how birds come into captivity or into your homes (often through conditions that cause suffering, death, extinction, and environmental and biodiversity degradation) deters many from keeping birds in captivity.  If birds are to come into captivity, basically they should be fair trade, organic, sustainable, humanely reared, and experience rich lives as a companion in your life.  This means that the people who work with the birds earn a living wage, that the environment and the bird is not harmed in the process, and that the bird and her or his parents have a wonderful life throughout their time spent with humans.

   6.  Strive for a low carbon footprint, making your home and work environments as “green” as possible

The more we consume of the earth’s resources, the less there is for other life forms.  We may not see the devastation that our consumer choices cause, however, much of what we have comes from other peoples and birds losing their habitats if not their very lives. For instance, the habitat of the Yellow-billed parrot (Amazona collaria) in Jamaica is threatened by zinc mining, so the more we recycle, the less environmental impact there is for this species. There are many other small steps that can positively impact lives. To learn more, go to the New American Dream (

   7.  Support organizations that promote avian conservation

Visit or vacation at a sanctuary, park, or avitourist destination.  Your dollars help sustain the viability of programs that seek to protect and nurture birds and people.  Reducing consumption of natural resources near and far means there is more for the birds and the habitats in which they live.  By targeting your spending for goods that support people and their efforts to live sustainably, you are helping birds.  In turn, as we nurture humans, we nurture the environments in which they live.  Learn more by visiting the International Ecotourism, Sustainable Travel International, and the agencies listed in “Ten Things Every Avian Veterinarian Should Know About Conservation Medicine” (

    8.  Support an advocacy group

Though there is greater public awareness about choices that reflect compassionate care for life and environmental values, human societies need not just education, but public policy to provide in-depth, timely, and far reaching guidelines for change. There is always work to be done on the local and international level for legislation and policy. Find out more through the American Bird Conservancy, Avian Welfare Coalition, Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Audubon Society.

    9.  Support students wishing to study avian conservation at home and overseas

Individuals native to a particular region bring longevity, embodied understanding, and commitment to any avian conservation project. Therefore one of the best ways to support avian conservation is to provide educational support for students in conservation biology, wildlife management, and veterinary medicine. You can also support international student and veterinarian travel. For instance, the Association of Avian Veterinarians provides scholarships for student externships. You may also contact Dr. Dennis Guerro Centeno at the San Carlos School of Veterinary Medicine and Zoology in Guatemala who seeks scholarship support for graduate students studying psittacine conservation in Guatemala (

  10.  Grow your enjoyment of birds and encourage others to do the same

“The experience of beauty has a built-in consequence: fairness.

(It) refers both to loveliness and to the ethical requirement to be

fair, play fair, or distribute fairly.  Beauty issues a call to symmetry

and equality, a call to be just.”  --Elaine Scarry

Birds are beautiful and bring much pleasure and enjoyment.  When watching them we grow in our sense of their beauty, which calls us to greater care and compassion of our natural world. Bird watching is avian conservation in the making, and estimates of American birdwatchers range from 46 million to over 60 million.  Carry binoculars when you go walking or keep a pair in your car.  Take time to slow down and observe birds.  They’ll surprise you with their behavior and beauty.  While at work and at home ask others if they had any interactions with birds and what they thought and felt.  In their relationships with birds, were there aspects that brought them joy and peace, understanding and clarity, sadness and loss?  If we can take time to celebrate, mourn, and express gratitude with others about our lives with birds we grow our capacity to care, and renew ourselves so that we may work diligently and consistently over the many years it will take to save even one species.

To find out more about bird watching go to and the National Audubon Society. Go to Wings of Compassion ( for information on avian loss.

You can celebrate birds on National Bird Day, January 5 (

For a copy of this handout and others on conservation, go to

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Batting Average in Avian Welfare Increasing Among Veterinarians





I recently attended the Annual Meeting of the Association of Avian Veterinarians  (AAV) in Milwaukee.  Demonstrated there was much change in the air for the hopes of keeping more birds in the air and more human hearts focusing on avian welfare.  To start off, the keynote speaker was Dr. Gail Golab, head of the Animal Welfare Division of the American Veterinary Medical Association.  She spoke of human complexity and diversity in welfare issues that depend on science as well as people skills and understanding.  She later attended the AAV Welfare Committee where a room full of bird veterinarians organized how to address the ethical dilemmas facing our world today regarding compassionate care for humans and birds alike.  During the main conference, various presentations covered critical thinking, socioscience (how to hold competent and compassionate ethical discourse), avian welfare, avian conservation, and grief and bereavement in avian loss.  Everywhere I turned it seems that this body of veterinarians increasing wishes to tackle difficult issues that tug at the heart, and impact our incomes and profession. 


In particular I was struck by the admission during the “Cutting Edge Hot Topics” session from researchers who mourned the use of birds in terminal experiments.  They named and thanked the birds, and reflected upon the angst caused by euthanizing birds to gain data to fight infectious disease.  Later during the conference I heard from these same researchers and from others about the stress and moral dilemma involved in avian medicine and companionship that constantly raises the question, “Should we have these birds in captivity at all?”   This kind of discourse was underground 15 years ago, whispered as it was a defect in veterinary professionalism to have confusion about the role of birds in captivity and for human use. Now it becomes front and center as more veterinarians wish to lead the change they wish to see in the world.  For this I am deeply grateful for my fellow veterinarians.


On the way home from the conference I had a layover in Memphis.  As I walked up to my gate, I noticed a somewhat weakened bat flying up and down the concourse.  People scooted out of the way and some swatted at it. One man in particular tried to harm the bat, and I told him that we were trying to catch the bat and that we didn’t need to harm it.  He asked me, “Why, it’s just a bat” and I responded, rather curtly as I was busily attempting to capture the bat with a spare t-shirt of mine, “Because bats have a right to live too.”  I suppose I made quite a scene running around trying to catch the bat and a crowd gathered.  Then suddenly the same man I had spoken too throws his shoe at the bat that ends this creatures flying, and perhaps also her or his life.  I stare unbelievingly at the man who pursued his plan of death while I followed my plan for life.  I gathered the still form in my t-shirt and approached the gate attendant asking if there was a way I could place the bat outside.  She looked at me and asked, “What, are you a veterinarian?” as if that explained my absurd behavior. I answered yes and she led me outside through a door in the gateway ramp, where I pried the still breathing, but quite unmoving bat from my shirt and lowered her to an alcove in the stairway. 


Returning to the gate waiting area, I sat in shock that there could be such opposing views on life and how in the public realm we can be at such odds with one another, disconnecting us in human relationships as well as harming other life.  In this sorrowful and confusing musing, however, I felt a note of pride for the veterinary profession and a resulting symphony of hope. For others see veterinarians as the saviors of life, even on the leading edge of behavior that stands against the status quo of society that states “it’s only an animal” in action and in word.  May we so live up to this understanding of who we are, in both action and world.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Terns and Turns

Tern - Andreas Trepte 

Common Tern (by Andreas Trepte)



Listen, maybe such devotion, in which one holds the world in the clasp of attention, isn’t the perfect prayer, but it must be close, for the sorrow, whose name is doubt, is thus subdued, and not through the weaponry of reason, but of pure submission.  Tell me, what else could beauty be for? – Mary Oliver in poem, Terns (see below for entire poem)


The beauty of birds, what is it for?  It is to add names to our life list?  Is it to heal the ache in our hearts?  Is it to find that we belong here on this earth, have a place in the family of things?


When I see a bird, hear her or his call, or hold it’s still form in my hands, I hear the invitation to give myself over to a better thing, and not a bitter thing. True, it is hard to be minister, conservationist, and veterinarian whose daily activities ask me to be present to what might seem hopeless in the tragic pain, loss, and death of all beings.  Incessant questions hover around me: What is mine to do?  How can I help?  When will the suffering end?


Then I see a bird, a tern perhaps hovering over ocean swell.  My heart fills, the world shifts, it turns.  In this great turning I only know beauty and that is what I am for.


What are you for?






Don't think just now of the trudging forward of thought,

but of the wing-drive of unquestioning affirmation.


It's summer, you never saw such a blue sky,

and here they are, those white birds with quick wings,


sweeping over the waves,

chattering and plunging,


their thin beaks snapping, their hard eyes

happy as little nails.


The years to come -- this is a promise --

will grant you ample time


to try the difficult steps in the empire of thought

where you seek for the shining proofs you think you must have.


But nothing you ever understand will be sweeter, or more binding,

than this deep affinity between your eyes and the world.


The flock thickens

over the roiling, salt brightness.  Listen,


maybe such devotion, in which one holds the world

in the clasp of attention, isn't the perfect prayer,


but it must be close, for the sorrow, whose name is doubt,

is thus subdued, and not through the weaponry of reason,


but of pure submission.  Tell me, what else

could beauty be for?  And now the tide


is at its very crown,

the white birds sprinkle down,


gathering up the loose silver, rising

as if weightless.  It isn't instruction, or a parable.


It isn't for any vanity or ambition

except for the one allowed, to stay alive.


It's only a nimble frolic

over the waves.  And you find, for hours,


you cannot even remember the questions

that weigh so in your mind.


~ Mary Oliver ~


(New and Selected Poems, Volume Two)