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."