A really common question from folks who are new to working with any deity or spirit is what to offer. After all, you’re meeting Someone for the first time; you want to show some good hospitality, and you certainly don’t want to offend. So what to offer?
The Ancestor Birds are an incredibly diverse group, so in some ways it’s hard to make sweeping statements as to what offerings They will prefer as individual species. But if you are just getting started with a specific Ancestor Bird, or if you’d like to offer to Them as a whole, there are definitely some items that in my experience, are well-appreciated. As you go deeper in your relationship with a particular spirit, aside from directly asking it what it wants (best practice!), you can also research what its species liked when alive. What did it eat? Where did it live? What did it make its nest from? All these details can give you lots of lovely ideas for gifts, much as you would take inspiration from a loved one’s hobbies and home when shopping for presents. I find that heartfelt, creative offerings carry extra “oomph”.
So, what about general offerings? The two categories of things I’ve found the Ancestor Birds to prefer the most in my practice so far are foods and symbols of life. To that end, here are some things I’ve either come up with or received requests for:
Eggs: Eggs are holy for the Ancestor Birds. They’re life-giving and nourishing, and yet also represent the new chicks that will never again be born. Many birds also consume the eggs of other species. I’ve offered both whole raw eggs and symbolic eggs, such as wooden ones, that I’ve infused with energy. This was an item that the Ancestor Birds specifically requested from me. I do not recommend offering broken or cooked eggs; the symbolism there loses its life-giving connotations and may cause offense. Eggs of any species you can legally obtain, such as chicken, duck, or quail, should be equally well-received. If you are able to take care in how you obtain your eggs, such as free range, eggs you obtain from a farm, or even raising the birds yourself, this is an extra effort that will be appreciated. Important Note: Please do not contribute to the decline of wild bird species by taking their eggs for offerings! Not only is this illegal in almost every case, but harming a threatened population of birds is certain to cause grave offense to the Ancestor Birds.
Nests: The Ancestor Birds seem to really like it when you make nests for Them. Now understand, many of these species did not build nests in life, or if they did, the result would not look like anything your human brain is picturing when you think of the word “nest”. A hole in the side of a tree, or a few pieces of straw on top of a flat rock, might be all you get. Nevertheless, efforts at creating something cup-shaped from various fibrous materials seem to be met with approval. They also enjoy it when you make a nest and use it as an offering dish. It seems to be about the time, effort, and energy invested in the piece than about what the final result looks like, so experiment freely! Important Note: As with eggs, please do not take nests from living birds to use as offerings, even if you think they’re not in use!
Seeds: We offer seeds to our living bird friends to fuel their long flights; why not to the Ancestor Birds too? There are many species that once lived on seeds. Birdseed is plentiful and inexpensive. As a bonus, once the Ancestor Birds have taken Their share, you can safely scatter the seeds outside for living birds to enjoy. But, an important distinction: do not mistake scattering the seed outside for making an offering to the Ancestor Birds. From the Ancestor Birds’ perspective, this would be as if I invited you to dinner but gave it to your cousin instead!
Nuts: Many birds also eat nuts. I like to get those mixes sold for humans around Yuletime for special offerings to mast-reliant birds like Passenger Pigeon. (Passenger Pigeon’s primary food source, the American Chestnut, also nearly went extinct along with Them, so the chestnuts I buy for Them are actually Brazilian substitutes.) I will also collect acorns outside for this purpose, although I’m careful to only take a couple from any given area–you don’t want to deplete the supply for living animals!
Dried Mealworms or Insects: I’m sure you know the cliche about the early bird, right? That’s because birds seriously do eat worms, and lots of other kinds of bugs too. Now I happen to be at a bit of an advantage for this one, because I raise various pets that actually eat dried mealworms. It’s not difficult to divert a small quantity of that for special offerings. These are often sold as food for chickens, but even a small bag is a pretty hefty offering, and you may want to split it with somebody.
Canned Seafood: It’s a sad fact that a disproportionate number of Ancestor Birds once lived on islands. When humans and our introduced predators like cats and rats came to their isolated environments, they didn’t stand a chance at survival. So quite a few Ancestor Birds are coastal, and have a taste for seafood of various kinds. If you look near the tuna in your grocery store, you’ll find a variety of creative offerings: canned and jarred oysters and clams, snails (sometimes sold with the little shells; points for presentation?), sardines, herring, salmon, and more. I’ve found the oysters to be particularly well-received by Dodo; maybe they’re similar enough to something They used to eat.
Poultry: What? Offer one kind of bird to another kind of bird? Yup! Many Ancestor Birds were fierce predators, preying on other birds, reptiles, and small (or not-so-small!) mammals. It might be difficult to serve up a nice slab of lizard, but chicken is very easy to come by. If you really want to get bonus points, though, get a package of giblets. You know, those weird looking blobs in the bag you take out of the turkey before you roast it for Thanksgiving? Those are the internal organs of the bird. From the perspective of a wild animal, these organs are very valuable, calorie-dense nutrition. You can obtain just the giblets of chicken or turkey very inexpensively; often a large package is just 2 or 3 dollars. If you really want a predatory Ancestor Bird to love you, it’s the best Valentine you could send. Thaw and serve!
I hope these offering ideas have sparked your creativity! If you try these or other offerings, please share in the comments; I’d love to hear from you!