A Fable: The Migrating Chickadee

The idea:
A fable about uncertainty, and courage.

For thousands of years the chickadee community of Albion had weathered the cold winters as all non-migrating birds in temperate climates do: They hid food (often tens of thousands of tree seeds each) in the fall. They moulted new heavier plumage just before winter. They scavenged nutrition from pine cones, maple sap, and even the dead prey of coyotes, which they’d learned to imitate to alert their community to the presence of fresh carcasses. They maintained a generous ‘grazing’ area for the flock, which normally included a dozen chickadees, plus a few nuthatches and titmice. And they hibernated at night, burning just enough fat to maintain their body temperature above the hypothermia level, so they could reawaken themselves the next day without depending on solar warmth.

But then one day some loud machines arrived in Albion and bulldozed down many of the trees the chickadees and their community-mates depended upon. Fortunately one old human put up a set of feeders in one of the clearcut areas, and another planted sunflowers in another clearcut area. So there was still an abundance to live on. But one of the chickadees was worried what would happen if the human destruction continued. That fall, she looked longingly at the flocks of other birds. Calling to the other birds in her community, and bidding them to follow, she rose up to join a flock of migrating geese. They briefly responded, thinking perhaps the agitated little chickadee was alerting them to a fresh source of food. But when they saw she was flying beyond the limits of their community, they broke ranks and returned. Deserted by her community, the would-be migratory chickadee turned around and rejoined her flock.

The following year, the humans destroyed more of the natural bounty of Albion, and where there had been sunflowers growing there was now a huge building filled with frightening sounds and a terrible smell. That year snow came early and for the first time, the chickadees knew they would have to depend on the old human’s feeders. Once again, the agitated chickadee urged the others to join her in migrating to a new and more natural home, but the other chickadees ignored it. Chickadees don’t migrate — they bulk up and, when necessary, hibernate. This was the only life they knew.

Except this time, the worried little chickadee didn’t turn back. She flew higher and higher, lagging behind the other creatures in their graceful formations all headed to a more hospitable home for the winter. She headed in the same direction, determined to follow them, until she disappeared from view.

The following spring the kind human stopped coming out each day to fill the feeders, and yet more of the trees were cut down and its natural vegetation replaced by the humans’ hard and barren constructions. But the migrating chickadee didn’t return, so the others didn’t know if she’d found a better home, a kinder and more natural place, or not. The alpha chickadees told the others that they would just have to make the best of a difficult situation. But the rest of the chickadees were not happy. Maybe the migrating chickadee was right, maybe she had found a new home untouched by these terrifying humans and their machines of destruction and scarcity. But chickadees weren’t meant to migrate, they weren’t built for it. Yet they noticed other small birds and even butterflies migrating — perhaps this was the natural way, perhaps chickadees had merely forgotten how to migrate. When the fall came, some of the chickadees practiced migrating, and they watched the other birds intently.

And as the first snow began, one of the remaining chickadees called to the others, using the alarming call of the coyote: It’s now or never. We cannot continue on like this, or we will all die. And the other chickadees, all of them agitated now, called back: How do you know? Maybe it will get better again. This is our home — we cannot leave.

But their debate was drowned out by the roar of the bulldozers, making room for yet more of the humans’ strange and unnatural buildings with their deceptive and dangerous invisible walls, and more of the humans’ loud and frightening creations with the four rolling feet and the two eyes bright as suns. And all of Albion was filled with dust and tar and screaming.


House sparrows have virtually vanished from London; declared endangered species.

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4 Responses to A Fable: The Migrating Chickadee

  1. Beautiful stuff, Dave! Inspired and inspiring!Who are we to destroy everything?

  2. rjs says:

    this makes me really sad. i feel trapped in my inability to do anything significant in the world, the only effects I feel I have are tiny ones within my local community but they’re so small and insignificant compared to the huge devastations that are going on every single day — environmentally, economically, politically. my small positive actions (buying organic, living with a small footprint, being a proponent of literacy, caring for animals, and sharing these life-views and ethics with people I come in contact with) don’t feel like enough but I don’t feel capable of more. I’m just not a world-sized activist but I very strongly feel the human-induced collapse of the world around me, every day.my reaction sometimes is to turn off the news and the internet and just think about my world right here, very small. it feels like a “feathering my nest” mentality, with the idea that when the ultimate collapse does come (economic meltdown, bioterrorism, ozone depletion, or all of the above at once) that I’ll still have my little community of people and we will all band together and survive the best we can.sigh.

  3. Derek says:

    This fable reminds me very much of the short story, “who moved my cheese.” The main difference being that you haven’t finished your story.

  4. Dave Pollard says:

    Hi Rebecca. Don’t be sad — recognizing the problem is half way to solving it. You need to update your blog more often– what’s new with the stolen car, the stray cat etc.?Derek: I wondered who would point that out first. When I wrote it, I started with two endings, one happy, one sad. And then I decided to break all the rules and let readers write their own ending. If we are each of us writing our own story, and if that story lasts at least our lifetimes, maybe the most honest stories have no ending.

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