Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Bird Brained Assumptions

This morning, I read an interesting article in the Star Tribune about about white-throated sparrows, A bird of a different stripe.

I like these sparrows because they have a nice song that reminds me of being called for dinner. They are also fun to watch as they fling things around on the ground looking for bird chow. I am always sad when they head north for the summer.

Some white-throated sparrows have crisp white stripes and others have muted tan stripes.

I always thought the guys were the loud ones with the white stripes and the gals were more retiring, with tan stripes. This is often the pattern in the bird world. But apparently this is not so for white-throated sparrows.

"White-throated sparrows might have bright white head stripes or drab tan stripes. This is very important to the sparrows, which almost always will pair up with a bird of the opposite head color. White stripes are worn by aggressive, dominant birds, while tan stripes indicate a less aggressive sparrow, one that will make a good parent. So white-striped males almost always choose tan-striped females as mates, and tan-striped males choose white-striped females. If two white stripes paired up they'd be too aggressive to form a bond. And if two tan-striped birds paired up they'd lack the moxie to defend a territory. In either case, half of their offspring will have white-striped heads and half will be tan-striped."

I am a little embarrassed that I made assumptions about the white-throated sparrow in  regards to appearances, gender and partnership roles. I love that these little sparrows are born male or female, with white stripes or tan stripes, dominant or more laid back - and then they find a complementary partner. Having one in a pair with "moxie" and the other more laid back (and able to put up with all that moxie) seems to work for these sparrows.

This morning, I also read an article about a local Catholic school holding a mandatory "marriage talk" assembly for their soon-to-voting seniors, DeLaSalle kids have a few words with archdiocese at marriage talk. The archdiocese sent some of their folks remind this captive audience about their expected point of view, no doubt trying to build support for the upcoming Marriage Amendment vote this fall.

I was pleased to hear that some of the students spoke up in defense of the wide diversity of successful partnerships. I was heartened to read that a brave few pushed back against the narrow, condemnation broadcast by the archdiocese. I hope these dissenting young voices will keep building in strength and clarity. I hope that folks left the assembly with some of their assumptions challenged.

We all have to be open to changing our old patterns of thinking, no matter what the topic. Today, you will find me sitting on our deck watching white-throated sparrows as I do every spring -- but with a shifted perspective on what makes for successful bird partnerships.


  1. Good for you, Carmella. It was bad enough that seniors only were targeted - because many of them will be able to vote in the fall. It was bad enough that kids were crying in the bathrooms over the hate-gays rhetoric. But to suggest that kids with only one parent - or adopted kids - were inferior to kids with "normal familes" and were sociologically unstable takes bigotry to a new low. Elizabeth

  2. I'm with you on both topics! I've long loved the little white-throated sparrows for the way they scratch around like little chickens. I wish they stayed longer. I also read the article about the "marriage talk" at DeLaSalle. It's despicable that a supposedly Christian group would attack young people over their parent's partner or lack thereof. On top of that, they are giving tacit permission for their fellow students to pick on them. How ugly is that!

  3. By the way, you're looking really good, Carmella!