Lounging in my backyard on a cool fall day the insight hit me: Tolerance in public life is modeled nicely by a mixed flock of birds.
Each species has its distinctive nesting habitats, but they congregate and share a feeding source and space. There is security in their number and endorsement in their choices. Their fellow birds are comforted. Still there are differences.
Juncos, not so fussy, are happy to forage on the ground. Sparrows will join them. But not Finch, Titmouse, and Chickadee; they go directly for the sunflower seeds. Sailing in from distant trees, they select a seed and retreat to the nearby pines and oaks to husk it.
Accompanying their ground and perch neighbors, the tree climbers, Downy Woodpecker and Nuthatch, are the first to attack the suet feeder. Cardinal couples, a bit more shy, also find their way to the sunflower seeds, sometimes visiting in the company of the others but not always.
Only after the mixed flock has finished its business will the large, noisy, skittish Blue Jays find their way to the feeder. They need to be alone. They just don't find it so easy to share space and food. The others know this too. No hard feelings, just respect for differences.
Also distinct, the Northern Flickers, they quietly observe from a distance, then swoop. They are stunning in size and posture, set apart by their rich browns, black-ladder patches, and brilliant flashes of red. Like the smaller climbers, they love the suet. They dine briefly and leave.
The public place is constructed. I hung the feeders, stocked them with food. They know my feeding site is neither tree nor bush. They are pragmatists and opportunists. They find my stocks of food quickly, collectively. But they also move on. They have other sites to visit.
Are we the makers and they the takers? What is given by us, by them, by their presence? Are we more or less whole by giving and by receiving what they have to offer us?
We are the animals who excel at the ethic and technology of making and taking material stuff. But perhaps that is less essentially human than the meaning we make and take from experience.