Chickadee Deelights

A FEW YEARS BACK, after I had been feeding chickadees for several years, I left my front door open for a few minutes while I stepped into the garden, and a chickadee flew into the house. He didn’t panic—he just flew to a windowsill and, when he realized that he couldn’t get through the glass, perched there calmly, looking out. Ordinarily I’d throw light cloth over a trapped bird so that I could capture it and take it outside. But this bird didn’t seem to be in any distress, and I knew he would probably recognize the sound of my voice, since I always talk to the birds while I’m filling their feeder.

So I started walking toward him very slowly, talking to him. When I got close enough, I put my outstretched finger in front of his feet, offering him a perch just as I would have done for a pet bird. And, to my surprise, he hopped on. I then took him outside, and he flew off.

There are many stories of people who have taught chickadees to take seed from their hands. But I hadn’t done anything to try to make friends with “my” chickadees beyond feeding them. Evidently that was enough. Mind you, this little bird probably would not have been at all happy if I had tried to grab him. (Most pet birds hate that too—it’s a bit too much like being grabbed by a hawk!) But he was willing to trust me enough to jump on my finger, even though he had probably never been in physical contact with a human before.

Chickadees’ friendliness toward humans is a big part of their appeal to us. Add to this the fact that their round little heads and round little bodies strike us as exceptionally cute, and no wonder they are one of North America's favorite birds.

But wait, there’s more! Unlike quite a few other species of birds that visit feeders, chickadees are "stay-at-homes." Banding studies suggest that once a chickadee has adopted your feeder as part of its home territory, it will return every day, year after year. Other birds, especially those in the finch family, tend to move around a lot; the finch at your feeder today may not be the same one you'll see tomorrow.

Chickadees are also very intelligent. They hide food, and an individual chickadee can remember thousands of places where it has left snacks for future use. The calls chickadees make are so complicated that they have been compared to human language. According to the
Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, “They code information on identity and recognition of other flocks as well as predator alarms and contact calls.”

In other words, the chickadees that visit your feeder regard your garden as home, and they are quite capable of learning to recognize you and regard you as a friend. If you don't already, try talking to them while you’re filling the feeder. If you stand still after you've filled the feeder, and don't make any sudden moves, they'll come quite close to you while they eat. You might even be able to teach them to land on you to get food, but I'm not sure I recommend that. (On the whole, it's not a good idea to teach wild animals that they don't need to be suspicious of humans.)

Chances are you too can have a friendly encounter with a dee-lightful chickadee.

(This one’s for fellow chickadee fan Jodi DeLong, aka Bloomingwriter! Thanks for leaving comments, Jodi.)


Kate said...

It is amazing that chickadees would recognize your voice and not be in the least afraid of landing on your outstretched finger. I can see though that birds do get comfortable - last summer was the first time I saw this happen. My beloved cat died in the spring and the number of birds feasting in the garden and enjoying the pond were quite something. They got so they would stay perched on the rocks surrounding the pond even though I was very close to them.

I just want to garden again and it is still frozen here. It is getting tedious - all this chilly weather.

Am enjoying your blog ... I found your blog through Jody's blog which I agree is a wonderful read. I am looking forward to reading her book .

Wild Flora said...

Hi Kate!
Thanks for being the first person other than Jodi to leave a comment on this blog.
I'm so sorry to hear about the loss of your cat. I still miss my black and white cat Dashiell, even though he died seven years ago.
We had an Easter Sunday snowstorm here--quite a shock.
Wild Flora