Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Chickadees and politics

My thoughts have been running to both politics and migration lately, and somehow that odd juxtaposition has led me to wish we operated this country like a chickadee flock. Chickadees are probably the most accepting birds on the continent—so much so that not only do local woodpeckers and nuthatches associate with them but also warblers, vireos, kinglets, and other migrants passing through an area. These strangers in a strange land can negotiate unfamiliar territory much more easily when chickadees show them the way. And chickadees welcome virtually anyone into their cooperative feeding flocks, insuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, promoting the general welfare, and securing the blessings of liberty to themselves and their posterity in a manner that is very much in keeping with the spirit of the Constitution of the United States.

But despite their community spirit, chickadees are very much self-reliant. Each individual chisels out its own roosting cavity, and even when it's 60 below zero, each one sleeps in its own cavity.

Chickadees have excellent family values, of course, and raise their children without video games, too much television--indeed, without ANY television, or Internet, either—and although they have a poor track record in getting their children into the best colleges, or any other institutions of higher learning, their success in rearing healthy, happy young that become productive members of chickadee society is far greater than people of any political stripe can boast.

Like many birds with little or no sexual dimorphism, chickadees have fairly egalitarian relationships between male and female, sharing in many of the child-rearing tasks. Their domestic arrangements last until the children reach independence, and many pairs reform the following year. Both male and female chickadees occasionally look beyond the marital bond—females tend to be suckers for a tuneful guy, and the finest singers can’t help but go along with their overtures. But these awkward lapses don’t lead to divorce or legal proceedings, and although a brood of chickadees may exhibit multiple paternity, males never ask for, much less demand, blood tests, nor do they ever withhold love and care from babies that may not be their own. Chickadees never embarrass their spouses with public dalliances, and even when mates go their separate ways after a breeding season, they never slap divorce papers on a mate recovering from cancer surgery.

Yep—thinking about politics is much more pleasant when viewed through a chickadee prism.