by Pat Jaquith
Spirited, social, active, acrobatic, gregarious, friendly. Maybe I should add ‘compassionate’- see the story below! Watching these little birds as they bounce along on the airwaves on their way to the bird feeder in the morning is mood-lifting. Always on the alert, head switching back and forth, they sound the first alarm when something of concern approaches.
“This morning I sat near a window half-reading, half-watching the birds flitting around when I heard that dreaded “thump” of a bird and window collision. A tiny Mountain Chickadee lay as if perched, head erect, but eyes closed between the house and a deck chair. As I squatted down to watch over it, suddenly it keeled over on its side, but I could see the tiny chest expand and contract as it continued to breathe and its tiny beak open and shut a time or two. It lay so still. After maybe 30 seconds, a second Mountain Chickadee landed on a chair leg a few inches from the injured bird and started hopping around from perch to perch on the chair, seeming to be checking on the prostrate bird. It hopped to a perch adjacent to the wounded one then dove down, hitting the victim on the top of its head, coming up with a tiny tuft of black feathers in its beak and pulling it upright. The stunned bird sat there; its companion flew in front of it twice, coming close but without contact. On the third pass, the stunned bird followed its leader to another resting place where they both sat for a minute before flying out of sight.” – Pat Jaquith 2.13.18
Mid-April is a great time to look for nesting behaviors. Chickadees are cavity nesters, either excavating their own nest in rotten (softer) wood or refurbishing a woodpecker hole. They place a cup-shaped nest inside the hole, fashioned from hair, vegetation, and other materials. The males feed the nesting females as they incubate 5-9 eggs; both parents bring insects, insect and spider eggs to feed the young.
When I walked in this area on 4.22.20, I saw a lot of chickadee activity, found a comfortable seat within sight, and spent a half-hour watching as a pair came and went, bringing out beaks-full of woody debris which they’d fly off to drop. On the 25th, I returned with camera, found the same seat, and was delighted to find them still at work.
By late summer, the fledglings have become quite independent. They may stay with the family unit throughout the following winter as they forage for seeds and suet at feeders and cache emergency rations and retreat to communal woodpecker holes at night.