THE BLOG

A Birdbrained Approach to Income Inequities

01/21/2014 04:17 pm ET | Updated Mar 23, 2014
Steven Hunt via Getty Images

Pity our feathered friends in the dead of winter. No worms, seeds or bugs. Their nests, chick-worn and thinned by autumn winds, have long since been abandoned. Water supplies, so readily available in the warmer months, have iced over. Nevertheless winter is thanksgiving time for predatory hawks and owls, for now that the trees are bare, their hunt for dinner becomes slam- dunk.

The plight of garden birds impels many of us to keep feeders well stocked during the winter months. Inevitably, the avian grocery store we've created brings heavy traffic to our windows from a variety of winged creatures. We may even congratulate ourselves upon having helped wild birds, compensate them for winter cruelties, and even out the injustices wreaked upon them by nature. At least that's what my husband and I thought when we first hung our squirrel-proof feeder outside our kitchen window. We assumed that each bird would have a chance to eat his fair share of seed, the resultant activity at our feeder taught us a more somber lesson.

Initially, we enjoyed the spectacle of sparrows and chickadees fluttering at the feeder as the doves pecked the ground for dropped seeds and a male cardinal waited courteously in the rhododendron bushes for them to finish. Once they did, that scarlet bird perched on the feeder ring and began eating. Suddenly he was scared off by a blue jay who voraciously pecked away at the seeds for several minutes. Upsetting as that was, we had to forgive his greed. The jay, after all, a much larger and more aggressive bird than the cardinal, had every right to eat at our feeder and needed more food than smaller birds

One morning a gold-coated flicker appeared at the feeder alone and ate his full. All well and good, we thought, admiring the bird's large size, striking markings and dazzling white breast. After he flew off, the chickadees and sparrows reappeared and ate... until the jay returned and scared them away. Then the flicker reappeared, alighted on the feeding ring, and walloped the jay with his wing. Startled, the jay took off for the sky.With apologies to Benjamin Franklin, it may not only be the early bird that gets the worm, but the biggest bird who wins the seed.

Admittedly, pecking order is a rule of nature, even though our American forefathers promoted the concept that "all men are created equal." That is not so today in our country where the biggest bird not only has the advantage of eating the most seed, but shrieking if the little birds attempt to eat at all.

In 2012, incomes of the top one percent rose nearly 20 percent compared with a one percent rise for the remaining 99 percent -- the widest gap since the Roaring Twenties. Since 2009, 95 percent of the income gains reported have gone to the top one percent. Those in the top 10 percent with incomes over $114,00.00 have also enjoyed a 48.2 percent rise in their incomes since the 1990s.

Not only do the wealthiest segments of our population live and eat well and better educate their young, they are healthier than poorer people. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the rich were living 4.5 years longer than the poor in the 1990s. Today, that gap is likely to widen even more.

In nature, the birds who can eat the most food have a better chance to thrive. In America, the rich have more than enough to eat, but still want more, leaving nothing for the little folks. In our "land of opportunity" such greed can only be considered shameful. Or as our winged friends might put it, downright seedy.

Little wonder there's squawking in Washington.