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Outdoors: We Gather Together

Flock by Mackinaw bridge
Sam Corden
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Sam Corden

One of my favorite hymns is “We Gather Together."

After several years of relative isolation, gathering with friends is truly a blessing.

Though we think of this tune as a song of Thanksgiving, in the 1600s, it actually was a Dutch folksong.

It was transformed into a hymn when members of the Dutch Reformed Church rebelled, and after 80 years, escaped tribulation when the Netherlands was freed from Spanish rule.

Escaping tribulation is the reason little birds gather together in mixed flocks in the winter.

Actually, their wicked oppressors are just hungry predators.

Many watchful eyes offer protection, and furthermore, a mass of moving targets tends to confuse predators - there is safety in numbers.

Around here in the forest, little birds like nuthatches and downy woodpeckers often join up with chickadees because chickadees know all of the good places to look for food.

For much the same reason, ground feeding birds like juncos, sparrows, goldfinches and redpolls join forces in search of food in our windswept winter fields.

But oddly, and this has survival value, mixed flocks often move on from great feeding spot (like a feeder) even when abundant food is still available.

This actually makes sense. If they ate everything in one place and then were grounded by a blizzard or driving rain, the whole flock would be doomed. That rarely happens.

In extreme weather, birds of mixed flocks do sleep gather together for warmth at night.

And though they vie for dominance and bicker from time to time, the birds in winter flocks usually stay together until spring.

I wish you the blessing of being together with your flock this holiday season.

"Outdoors with Coggin Heeringa" can be heard every Wednesday on Classical IPR.