Michael Ellis

“As a man must speak, so a bird must sing,To complete a full life story.He sings to survive, to mate, to thrive,To defend his territory. by Joel Peters

Dare I compare the shrill, squeaky voice of Ross Perot to the liquid notes of a meadowlark? Or the senseless, unfinished chatter of George Bush to the rich melody of a Swainson’s thrush? Or the harsh, guttural grunts of Bill Clinton to a bubbling winter wren? I shouldn’t, but I will anyway.During the final stages of the Presidential campaign I was struck by the power of language to excite, anger and depress me. Each candidate was warbling his song, trying to sway the masses with his sound bites. I kept imagining all three men as birds, perched on fence posts yakking away in the open field of the media. A song, according to ornithologists, is usually sung by a male under the influence of testosterone. So far, so good. It consists of a series of sounds that can be repeated note for note. The song is used to define and control a territory (or an electorate). Some of the recent political songs were “The economy is not that bad.” “Are ya with me?” “It’s time for a change.”

There are other sounds emitted by birds known as calls. These are used “to rally a flock for collective action, to hold a flock together, to intimidate and drive away enemies or competitors.” Well, this sounds like a political campaign to me. But unfortunately this political/biological analogy breaks down. Because songs are not only used to secure territories but also to attract mates. And we all know that the recent crop of Presidential candidates all support traditional family values. They are members of intact family units and would never croon to attract another mate outside the family circle. Would you, Bill? At least not under the intense scrutiny of the media. Male birds on the other hand regularly mate with more than one female. Birds spend a tremendous amount of time and energy singing. One red-eyed vireo sang 22,197 songs in the course of one day! And one tropical manakin spent 86% of his waking time singing. These are amazing statistics but even more amazing is that some researcher actually counted these songs. Singing is clearly very important for survival. By spending this much energy, male birds demonstrate their vigor and fitness to other males and to females. I sing therefore I am good. I campaign through the night therefore I am Presidential.

Now there are a few female birds that sing, mockingbirds, Yellow-headed grosbeaks, song sparrows, and northern orioles. And if you inject female white-crowned sparrows with testosterone, they’ll sing. Are you listening Diane, Barbara and Lynne? The bottom line in birds and politicians is the same. You gotta deliver after you sing. Male birds that do manage to drive off other males and attract a female, must then mate with her, help incubate the eggs, and feed the young. Successful candidates after defeating their opponent must now deliver on all those promises to the populace. Governor Clinton, rest your singing



Posted on

November 6, 2010