Perhaps you have heard the phrase, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”. But is that thirteenth century proverb correct? Our cat, Miss Kitty, taught me a lesson about birds several years ago that disputes the phrase.
As with most female cats, Miss Kitty, was an avid hunter. She regularly scoured our one-acre tract for any game - rats, lizards, mice, baby rabbits, and birds. Mostly she just played with them and let them go, but sometimes she would devour a bird.
Around two o’clock one spring morning, our trusty cat scratched on our outside bedroom door alerting us that she wanted to come into the house. This was her normal routine. Still groggy from sleep, I crawled out of bed and opened the door. I made a mistake by not checking first to see if she was bringing us a prize catch. As I was closing the door I heard an unfamiliar noise from our cat. Suddenly wide awake, I turned on the light and saw that Miss Kitty had brought in a bird to show us.
Ok, no problem - I will just throw the dead bird outside and that will be the end of the problem. Not so. I discovered the bird was still alive and flapping its wings. Then the cat let go and the bird flew out of the bedroom and down our hallway. By then my wife had awaken just in time to see the bird fly by. “You got to get him outside”, she yelled at me. “I’m trying”, I replied while running after the bird. I yelled over my shoulder, “Bring me a big hat or something to trap the bird”.
The bird lit on several pieces of furniture in the den but evaded my attempts to catch him. Then he flew into the dining room and lit on the top of the hutch. By this time I had an old straw hat in my hands attempting to get close enough to the prey to catch it. Then a small miracle happened. The bird flew just as I was attempted to cover him with the hat, and he flew right into the hat. I grabbed his tail feathers with my right hand. “I got him….I got him”, I announced proudly. “Throw him outside”, my wife yelled. “Go open the door for me”, I instructed. Then I tossed the terrified bird out the door and he flew off. Miss Kitty, watching all this, seemed to be perturbed that her prey and been lost.
We got back into bed and lay there laughing. “You looked so funny chasing that bird in your underwear”, my wife snickered. “Well, you left it all up to me to protect our castle”, I whispered. “I’ll tell you one thing, I will never open the door for Miss Kitty again without first checking to see if she has some critter in her mouth”, I vowed. And I never did.
Now, back to this old adage, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”. I began thinking about it - what does it mean? I decided that it means that it is better to stick to something you already have, rather than pursuing something you may never get. The basic warning is that you must take care not to get too greedy in life. If you are holding a bird in the hand, you have your meal for the evening. You can take that one bird and be well fed. If instead you let it go to pursue two birds you’ve spied in the bush, you may catch neither, and wind up hungry for the night.
This proverb points out that by passing up a sure thing for a more promising possibility, you also run the risk of losing both the sure thing and the promising possibility.
Somehow I don’t think Miss Kitty knew anything about this little phrase about birds, she was just doing what cats naturally do. But I did have a bird in my hands, but set him free to join the two birds in the bush. A bird in the hand is good, but birds in the bush might sing songs to us.
“A BIRD IN THE HAND”
BY: NEAL MURPHY
PO BOX 511
107 HEMLOCK STREET
SAN AUGUSTINE, TX 75972