Lessons from the Chickadees and English Sparrows

Lessons from the Chickadees and English Sparrows

I have a bird feeder just outside my window and, as an amateur bird-watcher I love noticing how different species interact while jostling for the sunflower seeds I put out. This winter I’ve been fascinated by the two most frequent visitors, the solitary Black-Capped Chickadees and the prolific flocks of English Sparrows. Both had lessons waiting in the wings.

First, the amiable Chickadee dips from a nearby branch to my feeder and selects one special seed in its beak. Flitting back to the branch, it holds the seed between its feet, cracks open the shell and enjoys a bite-sized snack. This process is repeated many times, often attracting attention from other Chickadees nearby and then they move on all at once. A renowned birding expert commented to me that scientists are beginning to notice that some migrating species may actually look to the Chickadees as local hosts, suggesting the best places to eat in town. Warblers, finches and nuthatches follow them to my feeder and grab a quick snack in a similar format. These species are all native to Illinois.

Then the ubiquitous flocks of non-native English Sparrows swoosh in and sit on the feeder for hours rummaging through the seeds, spilling most of them on the ground and emptying my feeder in less than a day. When close by, I angrily shoo them away so the Chickadees can come back to eat in a less piggish, more conserving way.

If you noticed, I’m biased – I admire the way the Chickadee mindfully eats its fill and critique the fat little Sparrow’s gluttonous behavior.  And so I began to notice my quick judgments that Chickadees are good and English Sparrows are bad. [In fact, most non-native, introduced species of plant and animals do serious harm to native populations and as a conservationist I’m interested in reversing that trend.] But it was my harsh judgment that was most fascinating. Where else was I being quick to judge? Just when I started questioning my assumptions and checking my judgments, I noticed all the seeds on the ground were being enjoyed by ground feeding species like Juncos, Mourning Doves and squirrels who certainly appreciated the fallen bounty.

The lesson for me was this: I have thought patterns that I deem educated, correct and even enlightened but they don’t always serve me with the whole truth. There are always hundreds of different perspectives that offer something I hadn’t thought of or considered and always suggest something to learn.

While I still shoo away the English Sparrows now and then because I can’t keep the feeder filled frequently enough, I smile when they arrive and ask myself, “what judgments are keeping you from seeing life in a different way?” What might you notice if you considered things from a different angle today?