Last week I spoke to the Hampshire Bird Club in Amherst, Massachusetts, about how birds survive winter. I manage to work chickadees into just about every talk, and in this case I told about how chickadees know how to manipulate their environment, including the people in their winter territories, to maximize food availability. Whenever one chickadee flock arrived in my yard, one particular chickadee always tapped on my window to catch my attention to give the flock mealworms. Yep, a chickadee had trained me to do its bidding. A couple of days later, I received a lovely email from Phyllis Berman, who wrote:
We used to have several feeders out year-round. Our favorite residents were the chickadees. We were fascinated by their behavior and tameness. As with you, our chickadee “spokesbird” would not hesitate to let us know when the feeders needed more seed. He or she would flutter at our glass slider and tap to get our attention...so cute! We became well trained.
One pair made a nest in a birdhouse close to our back door leading out to our deck, far enough to not be intrusive but close enough to observe. Success!
But then there was trouble—a pesky squirrel tried to reach into the birdhouse, most likely to make a meal of eggs or young baby birds. Mom and dad chickadee fluttered and screamed so loudly that I heard from inside the house. I rushed out and chased the squirrel away. It happened again a few hours later and I saved the day again. You know squirrels...several more tries, but eventually it gave up, taking a long hissy fit in another tree. By the last time the squirrel attacked, mom and dad chickadee were not hovering over the bad guy, but rather hovering and screaming at the door they knew I would rush out of. I became well trained to their distress calls.
This rescue operation went on all weekend. I couldn't leave the house—the birdy family was counting on me. So I changed my plans and sent my husband out for errands and chores. He and I both had full time jobs during the week, so weekends were always busy, but now I had another job—keep the birds safe.
But then Monday came. I dreaded abandoning the chickadees so much that I talked myself into taking a sick day so I could keep guard. On Tuesday, I called in sick again. By Wednesday, I had to face my responsibilities, especially the ones that actually helped us pay for the birdseed. I went to work, a 10-minute drive away.
But instead of concentrating on my job, I kept picturing mom and dad Chickadee screaming at my door for me, counting on me—desperate for me. I was letting them down, and they were going to HATE me. So, after less than ½ hour at work, I said I was still feeling ill (and I really was—with worry), and I went home. That darn squirrel attacked all day. When the call rang out, I came to the rescue. But I was falling behind, and on Thursday, I HAD to go to work, for short interims anyway. I can't remember all the 10-minute-drives back and forth, but there were a lot. I took a LONG lunchtime, on my deck so the squirrel could see that I was there. Friday went the same as Thursday.
By the time the weekend rolled around again, I was a wreck! I could guard the birds all weekend, but Monday would come around again. I had to work this out, and when I thought to ask my husband to shoot the squirrel, I had to stop and reevaluate my place in the whole scheme of things. I am NOT Mother Nature. I can’t be responsible for wildlife to the extent of choosing who lives and who dies. I was deeply disappointed that I could not be a hero to the chickadees I had come to love.
But there’s a happy ending. We soon observed 2 fledglings with the mom and dad. Perhaps there had been potentially more, but I'm in a place that I can deal with it. I was glad to be part of it. There were more chickadee babies to be born on our property, along with the House Wren families on my front porch, the Robins on the back of the basketball hoop, and other birds that are common, but very dear to me. It was SO NICE to hear from someone who obviously feels the same way.