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.


  1. I do love the chickadees as well. Cornell's Andre Dhont, however, reveals a bit of their less-than-fair play:

    "black-capped chickadees have been known to produce false alarm calls, causing other birds to fly away, leaving the cheating chickadees to enjoy a food source by itself.”

    Makes me love them even more, tricky devils.

  2. Interesting that Chickadees do the false alarm call thing. Bluejays at my old Cynthiana, KY farm used to use Red-tailed hawk calls to clear out my bird feeders so they could feed in peace. They did it frequently when large numbers of grackles and starlings were present, but usually not with species of small birds. When I lived in southern Indiana, I would sometimes see/hear the Bluejays make Red-tailed hawk calls, but never to deliberately drive off other birds and never at the feeders. I am curious how some learned this behavior.

    Steve Sheridan

    ps Laura, I lamented on having few interesting birds in the city (other than that pain of a goldfish eating Great-blue heron), well we now have a pair of wild (socialized) mallard ducks that regularly come in to our birdfeeders. Of course I heavily supplement these ducks with all kinds of grain goodies as I miss my farm ducks. Lizzie also just loves to see the ducks (despite having very little interest in the regular songbirds at the feeders). Maybe Lizzie will grow up with a love of birding after all.