This excerpt is the 10th chapter of The Birds Our Teachers: Biblical Lessons from a Lifelong Bird Watcher by John Stott.
Hail to thee, blithe spirit!
Bird thou never wert,
That from heaven, or near it,
Pourestthy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art!
(Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ode to a Skylark, 1819)
Birds and humans have obvious characteristics which distinguish them from one another. Birds can fly; humans cannot.
Humans can make moral choices; birds cannot. Yet they have at least one thing in common: both sing! Both have vocal chords, even though ours is the larynx and theirs the syrinx.
Moreover, each bird species has its own distinctive song by which it can be recognised.
Two rather nondescript little greenish-yellow warblers — the Chiffchaff and the Willow Warbler — were originally thought to be the same species. They both nest in Europe and winter in Africa, and their look-alike plumage can deceive even experts.
But Gilbert White, the Hampshire parson and author of The Natural History of Selborne (1789), insisted that they must be distinct species because of their distinct songs. The former goes "chiff-chaff-chaffchiff" in a harsh, irregular and even erratic fashion, whereas the Willow Warbler utters a sweet cadence in a descending scale, in a minor key, and with a final flourish.
Only the tone-deaf could fail to appreciate the liquid bubbling trill of the curlew's spring song, the haunting yodel of the Great Northern Diver (Common Loon in North America), the resonant, explosive outburst of the wren ("Winter Wren" in North America), its tiny throat palpitating like a prima donna's, the melodious flutelike warbling of the male European Blackbird, or the Song Sparrow's varied repertoire of up to 25 little ...
John R. W. Stott (1921 – 2011) is known worldwide as a preacher, evangelist, author, and theologian. For 66 years he served All Souls Church, Langham Place, in London, England, where he pioneered effective urban evangelistic and pastoral ministry. During these years he authored more than 50 books, and served as one of the original Contributing Editors for Christianity Today. Stott had a global vision and built strong relationships with church leaders outside the West in the Majority World. A hallmark of Stott's ministry was his vision for expository biblical preaching that addresses the hearts and minds of contemporary men and women. In 1969 he founded a trust that eventually became Langham Partnership International (www.langham.org), a ministry that continues his vision of partnership with the Majority World Church. Stott was honored by Time magazine in 2005 as one of the "100 Most Influential People in the World."1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more