"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Saturday, December 18, 2010


As I tucked suet into the feeder, I could feel tiny eyes watching. I looked up into our sweet gum to see a chestnut-backed chickadee perched on the slimmest of branches, clearly waiting for me to get out of the way. He flitted down the minute I stepped back, scolding as he came, grabbed food and disappeared back up into the depths of the tree.

I was so engrossed in his antics, the whir of wings zipping past one ear startled me. A second one darted to the sunflower feeder, grabbed one shiny black seed, and sped away. My eyes followed him up into the tree where I saw an entire banditry of chickadees scattered among the branches waiting to drift down like wind-driven leaves for their turn at the feeders.

With a million things calling to me from the house, and Toby at my feet wondering why I wasn't throwing the ball for him, I almost moved on. Plus it was cold, nose-running cold. But the sky was blue and there were shadows and I felt such pleasure in the moment, I simply stood where I was and watched. Nothing I did - laugh, shift for a better vantage point, exclaim in surprise - seemed to impact the birds' behavior at all.

Chickadees are social, sociable and very vocal. They're as common around here as robins or juncoes - all-year residents. Yet there is something so uncommon in the delight I feel in their presence. Their size is a part of it: both local varieties, the chestnut-backed and the slightly larger black-capped, would fit nicely in an egg carton. Yet there seems to be an impossible amount of life and energy in those compact bodies.

The richness of their vocabulary also tickles me. From the classic chickadee-dee-dee to the one-note chipping declarations of presence to the cheeseburger song that announces spring, the sound track of my life is full of their voices.

The most incredible thing about them, though, is their lack of fear. No other bird in my experience is so willing to allow my presence in such an easy way. They go about the rhythm of their feeding, and it definitely has all the rhythm of a well-choreographed dance, regardless of my position.

I'm comforted knowing that wherever I might find myself, I'm most likely going to find chickadees, too. The mountains. The ocean. The city. They're resourceful and adapt to an endless variety of environments. I'm comforted by their constancy, no matter the season. I'm comforted that a being so simple and so common has the power to make my heart sing.

While not as majestic as the bald eagle, or as romantic as a hummingbird, chickadee's gift is to remind us that even ordinary contains magic and power and beauty.

Photos by Walt Shucka, taken in our back yard.
A group of chickadees is known as a "banditry" or a "dissimulation" or the much more pedestrian, "flock."


kario said...

Well, you've just given me a new perspective on these little kick-ass birds. For years I've lamented the fact that they are such little piggies that they empty the feeders nearly as fast as I can fill them and don't leave anything for the other birds. They fill the birdhouses before anyone else can get to them, too.

But reading this gave me a chance to see them in a different light. Thank you. I can perhaps revere them for their toughness and openness and watch them with a smile on my face now.

Donna said...

I love them too but you COMMUNICATE with them! Thanks for such amazing knowledge of them...I'll see them in a nerw light next time!! Great post!!

Anonymous said...

I love them too. They are noisy and fearless little things.

Wanda said...

"a dissimulation of chickadees"

HA! I love it.

Pam said...

We don't have these little birds in Australia, but interestingly enough, the name is often used as a term of endearment here and occasionally businesses have incorporated the name. A sweet post Deb.

deb said...

I love love chickadees.

I completely get you in this.

Teresa aka JW said...

I had to laugh when I read, "I could feel tiny eyes watching." And we think we're the watchers.

Chickadees are adorable.

Kathryn Magendie said...

Oh I love the little Chickadees!

Charlene: the Polarblogger said...

What a heartwarming experience and a beautiful lesson from a simple creation! I also love watching the birds, and I always feel something magical as I watch them.
Thanks again for this beautiful story.

LauraX said...

indeed...even the ordinary...maybe especially the ordinary!

yaya said...

I took out my bird feeders near my windows because of my cat..she thought it was a cafeteria..but now she's indoors all winter (old age does that to us!) so I'm going to put them back and hopefully catch some little cuties like that feeding and enjoying the day!

Carrie Link said...

Teachers everywhere! A cheeseburger song? Totally curious about that one!

Patti Lacy said...

I'm being cliche, but I LOVE CHICKadees.

Is it their sassy brown/black marking?
Their in-your-face name?

I don't know.
Love doesn't need reasons.

Amber said...

I am taken with their faith, an dlack of fear, given their extra small size. I think there is a lesson in that!


Jessica Nelson said...

Birds always fascinate me with how frail they are. Tiny bones, fragile bodies. They really are beautiful and strong though. Great post, as always. :-)


Loved learning all this about the chickadee.
Blessings. Barb

Cheryl said...

What gorgeous little birds. Something in me thinks that one day I'll be seeing them with you and that you just might come here and enjoy my birds too. I wanted to wish you a woonderful festive season and have to say that one of the highlights of starting blogging in 2010 was my discovery of this blog and your wonderful wordsmithing. Thank you for visiting Kangaroos of the Scrubby Bush and taking the time to comment and thanks, too, for your kind word on Whispering Pines the other day. Here's to a safe, peaceful and extraordinarily happy 2011 for us all. I may be absent for a while through work, but rest assured I will be back!

Katie Gates said...

I love the concept of a "banditry." No wonder they're fearless! Birds should be fearless, though. They can fly. (I wonder if they know how many humans DREAM of being able to fly?)
Happy Holidays, Deb! I look forward to continuing to witness your amazing talent in 2011.

LauraX said...

sending bright blessings your way dear one, now and always:)

Carol............. said...

Finally got a chance to catch up on your posts!

Your trip will certainly remain in your heart forever.

What sweet little birds!

Merry Christmas

colbymarshall said...

So sweet! I love the little birdies!