What bird comes to mind first when you think of spring?
It's a pretty safe bet to guess that you thought of a robin. In Ontario, we smile and declare that spring is really here when we see these red-breasted members of the thrush family. I saw my first one here in Gravenhurst on Thursday and actually said "Hello, beautiful!" out loud. It's no secret how I feel about spring being on its way!
Another bird that shows up early in the spring is the red-winged blackbird. Once these birds arrive, it's hard to miss them. With their red-and-yellow shoulder patches flashing against a backdrop of black feathers, they fill the air with their cries, songs and cackles to announce that life is returning to the area.
There's one bird you probably don't think of when you think of spring. You may have never seen one in your life because of their reclusive habits. Yet this bird is also considered a harbringer of spring in northern areas.
This bird is the American Woodcock.
If you haven't seen one before, don't feel bad. This bird is made to blend in. Its mottled brown plumage allows it to be almost indistinguishable from the leaf litter of the forest floor. Its short legs and stocky build keep it low to the ground. Its personality also contributes to its ability to blend in; the best way I can describe it is that the woodcock almost seems embarrassed to be alive. If disturbed, it waddles away furtively as if to say, "I am so sorry that you saw me. My bad. I'll get out of sight and out of mind immediately."
In other words, this is the last bird you'd expect to associate with the arrival of spring. It bears no bright colours like the robin. It makes no noisy proclamations like the red-winged blackbird.
But the woodcock does have its moment to shine. Specifically, the males do. Breaking with their normal shy habits, these guys put on a crazy show starting in the early spring in order to attract a mate. The male spirals into the sky and then descends in a crazy zigzag to the ground, calling and twittering and chirping the whole time. It's a big attention-grabbing frenzy.
Thinking of the woodcock's strange moments of bravery amidst its normal quiet lifestyle reminded me of the Christian's call to evangelism. I think many Christians are intimidated by the command to go into the world and preach the gospel. We see people who are particularly gifted with openness and courage - the robins and the red-winged blackbirds, shall we say - and we think, "I could never be like that." We feel embarrassed and ashamed, not necessarily of our faith, but of ourselves.
But evangelism isn't just for the outgoing. In the same breath that He gave the command to make disciples of all nations, Jesus told His disciples, "I am with you always". His Holy Spirit lives in us, and when we commit to listening for and responding to that Spirit, He can provide both the opportunities and the courage needed to share what God is like and what He has done in our lives.
If the elusive woodcock can step out of character to deliver a message of hope, then so can anyone!