The Head-Banger

Have you ever found yourself banging your head against a wall? How’d it feel? Did it help the situation? A friend of mine in New Mexico got so upset one day that he broke the sheet rock wall in his house with his head. After recovering from the concussion, he paid someone to repair the wall; but the situation he reacted to didn’t change because HE didn’t change.

Several weeks ago, Carol and I were finishing breakfast when I heard the unmistakable sound of someone banging its head against a solid object. This guy wasn’t upset or angry. He was hungry and looking for food. He was pounding away on the branch making bits of bark fly as he was gathering ants and other bugs with his long, barbed tongue.

It was a woodpecker.

I’m not an ornithologist, but this bird looked like a large Pileated Woodpecker. These guys can grow to almost 20 inches long, have a wingspan up to 29 inches, and weigh up to 12 ounces. It was drumming on one of our branches, grabbing nourishment with its tongue, and apparently taking it to someone in a nest because it made eight or nine trips to a distant tree while we were watching. I read that some woodpeckers have up to 9-inch tongues, but the Pileated Woodpecker’s tongue is only about 4 inches long.

These birds are members of the Picidae family, and peck like a jackhammer at about 20 hits per second! Compare that to a good machine-gun that fires 1,000 bullets per minute, which is16 per second.

The International Ornithological Congress says 236 species of woodpeckers make up the Picidae family world-wide, but only 23 species inhabit the United States.

How do woodpeckers survive the banging without getting headaches or concussions? God provided them with amazing safety features.

The beak consists of three-layers. The tough outer cover is called rhamphotheca made of scales from keratin, a middle layer of porous bone, and an inner fibrous layer made of mineralized collagen. Its structure absorbs and distributes much of the impact throughout the body which reduces the strain on the brain.

The skull is made of sponge-like bone, and liquid surrounds the brain. Both skull and liquid absorb a lot of the rapid-fire shock, and a safety belt called the hyoid bone that wraps around the brain keeps the brain from rattling. While pounding the tree, a thick nictitating membrane covers the eyes, protecting them from flying shrapnel. Also, the slitted nose is protected with special feathers.

Many of these critters are antisocial and don’t mix well with others. In this sense, “Birds of a feather flock together” doesn’t always hold true. Most are territorial and are jealous of their turf.

I read that wild woodpeckers live from 4 to 12 years, but under ideal conditions they might live 25 to 30 years.

The most famous woodpecker in America is the cartoon Woody Woodpecker that was created by Ben Hardaway in 1940. I always liked that cartoon. Hardaway styled Woody as a combination of several birds, including the Pileated Woodpecker.

Thinking back on my friend in New Mexico, he wasn’t created like a woodpecker, so he shouldn’t have physically banged his head. And he discovered that becoming a head-banger doesn’t do any good.

What about figuratively banging our heads? Normally, that means we are frustrated, angry, or worried. However, if we get upset, it blocks the creativity we need for correcting the situation. Rather than demanding that the situation change, we need to change our method of responding.

Storms of all sizes and types are an integral part of life. But as devastating as the storm may be, it is our reaction that exacerbates the problem. Getting upset and banging our heads only makes things worse.

So what should we do?

Because we have a difficult time changing our circumstances, we need to learn how to change ourselves. Romans 12:2 tells us don’t act like the world but ask God to help us change the way we think. Then we will learn to know God’s will for us. Interestingly, when we change the way we think and act, our circumstances often change.

Psalms and Proverbs provide the principles for handling almost any situation that life can present. You may scoff at that; but when you recognize and admit your need for help, God will be waiting for you. We don’t need to be a head-banger; leave that option for the woodpeckers.

Lessons from the Flock – Vision

“You’re a bird-brain!”

Did you ever hear that? It’s a derogatory statement and meant to degrade someone. But I identify with it because I am learning a lot from my fowl friends – my five chickens.

I’ve noticed that the birds often gather at the fence and look in the direction of the kitchen window. When I move around in the room, their heads follow my movements and they seem to be waiting for me to come out. But when they are standing in bright daylight, how can they see me through a window in a room with subdued lighting?

It was research time.

Of the many documents on the internet, I found an article by Cynthia Berger published on July 19, 2012 titled “True Colors: How Birds See the World.” That was an eye-opener. Using a device called a spectrophotometer (it measures light that is reflected from a surface), researchers found colors in the UV range that most birds can see.

Quoting from her second paragraph, “…systematic testing of bird vision revealed something unexpected: many bird species can see UV light. Scientists also have learned that many birds have plumage that reflects UV light.”

I had never thought about chickens being able to see differently from humans. Oh, I know chickens have enhanced hearing and smelling, but enhanced sight? Amazing.

I’ve always wondered how a bird can distinguish a male from a female, but now I know. Both males and females of barn swallows, mockingbirds, western meadowlarks (and many others) look remarkably alike to humans. But viewing them through the spectrophotometer we find they look totally different from each other. They, of course, have the same shape but different coloring. Another example: To humans, the blue tit male looks identical to the female. But looking at the UV reflection, we find a bright spot on the males’ head. The female spots that immediately and says “That’s my man!”

Female birds know which eggs are hers because various eggs reflect UV light differently. Choosing to raise her own offspring, some females either break or eject foreign eggs from her nest.

Birds will more readily eat food that reflects greater amounts of UV light. That explains another question I had: why do my chickens go for corn more than wheat? Corn reflects more UV. Also, insects reflect a higher amount of UV than green grass. Watch out, moths and bugs; my chickens are loose in the yard and you are doomed!

Speaking of moths, it’s fun to watch a hen run at full speed then half jump and half fly with neck fully extended to grab a moth or other flying insect out the air.

But all that helps to explain why the birds are at the fence looking in my direction: some of my clothing is reflecting UV light. They see me through the window, and they assume that I’ll bring food out to them. Sorry, chicks. I’ll feed you later.

When I think of birds’ ability to see what humans cannot see, it reminds me of spiritual sight. In Ephesians 1:18, the Apostle Paul said, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know the hope to which God has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.”

“Eyes of your heart”? Sounds strange because blood-pumping hearts don’t have eyes. What Paul means is we have inner understanding, insight, the discernment or comprehension of spiritual reality as it pertains to Almighty God, and verified in the Holy Bible. I am not referring to Hinduism, Buddhism, spiritism, spiritualism, other religions, or any New Age idea. I am not talking about mindless concepts that exalt man, nature, familiar spirits, or demons.

An example of a mindless statement – proclaimed to be spiritual insight by Matshona Dhliwayo – is: “The Universe is one body; love is its heartbeat.” Not understanding either the universe or love, Dhliwayo is wrong on both counts.

True spiritual insight comes from God, and enables us to understand real life – both temporal and eternal – from God’s perspective. Second Corinthians 2:16 informs us that we can “have the mind of Christ”; that is, receive His thoughts. This requires us to stop being self-centered, and to become God-centered or Christ-centered.

As birds can see some of what humans cannot see, we can ask God to grant us wisdom and insight which would enable us to understand what we normally cannot “see”. That’s not being a bird-brain; it’s being in tune with God.

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