Wednesday, November 25, 2009

November 25: Chickadees

The Maine state bird, the pert black-capped chickadee, is so common around here that we tend to take it for granted. It's a tiny bird with a simple song, and sports the same black and white plumage year-round. Of the birds that come to my feeder, the male cardinal, rose-breasted grosbeak, and goldfinch are much flashier, capturing more attention with their color and comparative scarcity.

But I think chickadees are my favorite visitor, because I can count on them. They're regulars. Every morning when I sit down at my desk, there's a flurry of chickadee activity at my little window feeder, and every afternoon when dusk starts to fall (these days, around 4:00) there's another flurry before they all head off to roost for the night. When I hear the soft, repeated taps of chickadees landing one after another on the feeder in late afternoon, I automatically look at the clock, knowing my work day is almost done. I like knowing that my feeder must be one of their last stops before nightfall. If the feeder is very low or empty, one will sometimes sit on the edge and yell, "Chick-a-dee-dee-dee," looking right at me--I swear it's telling me to get up and fill the feeder already.

Photo by Brian Willson

Each bird flits in quickly and pauses for a moment on the feeder's edge, bright eyes alert to any movements, including mine. It carefully picks through the seeds till it finds the perfect one (sometimes tossing aside the imperfect ones with seeming disdain), then flies off with it. The next chickadee, which has been queued up in a nearby bush, quickly follows suit. One chickadee--at least, I think it's one bird--likes to open its sunflower seed by banging it on the side of the feeder. You can hear it throughout the office, and I can't help but laugh each time at its clever talent.

The chickadee's tiny bird brain actually does something amazing this time of year--it grows extra brain cells so as to expand its memory to include all the places the bird is caching food for the winter. It's kind of like adding extra RAM to a computer. Even the smallest creatures are marvels of nature when studied closely.

Bright-eyed chickadee
looks in at me, grabs one seed--
the day is ending.

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