Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Chickadees and Trust

Black-capped Chickadees nesting in yard

The chickadee nest in my dead cherry tree is in a high-traffic area, right next to our fence along on a dead end that leads to a path where lots of people pass by, often with their dogs, and several little children play for many hours each day. Our neighbors’ driveway is directly across from the nest, so their cars come within less than 10 or 15 feet a few times a day. The birds pretty much ignore all that, and didn’t even seem bothered when four power company trucks pulled in and one parked right next to the nest to deal with an old power pole in the back next door. They’ll be back pretty soon to take the pole away. And those same neighbors had a few large limbs cut from a couple of their trees, with the noisy wood chipper right next to the nest, and that didn’t seem to faze them either.   

A few passersby have noticed the nest—sometimes I have my big camera pointed right at it, and the trail cam in the next limb of the same tree is also easy to spot. Fortunately, my home office window looks out on all the action, so I can be vigilant in the coming weeks to make sure no one bothers them. 

I have always made it my policy to never search for nests because I don’t like the possibility of disturbing the parents.  I’ve seen and photographed chickadees excavating cavities and picking up nesting materials, I’ve watched parents enter nest boxes with food and come out with fecal sacs, and I got to watch three babies fledge across the street. But never before have I been able to watch one nest day after day from the very start. Luckily, this chickadee pair is uniquely trusting of me because they’ve been coming to my window for a full year for mealworms. I think that must be why they’ve been so tolerant of my photographing them and climbing a ladder to the cam on the next branch every couple of days to take out one photo card and put in a new one. 

I was thinking a lot about trust on Friday when someone calling themselves “Chickasaw County Gentry” posted a new comment on a blog post I’d made way back in 2012 called “Friendly Chickadees?” They wrote: 

Once I killed a Chicken Snake in my yard and dropped it off about 100 ft. in the woods next to my house. About 20 minutes later I walked out my front door and was met by several Chickadees in the tree limbs just over my head chattering and carrying on in great distress. Having gotten my attention, they then flew into the woods then back to me. They were only 4 ft. from me a times. Initially, I didn’t understand what was going on until I saw they were directing me to the dead snake still moving in the woods.

I got a shovel and demonstrated to them I had killed the snake and then buried the snake to the great satisfaction of the Chickadees.

I was shocked that birds asked for my help and knew that humans would kill snakes.

Has anyone experienced this communication before?

I can’t think of any time chickadees have approached me specifically for help, other than wanting me to fill the feeders or hand out some mealworms, and I’m afraid if they ever wanted someone to kill snakes, they’d have to look elsewhere, though the red-bellied and garter snakes up here aren’t much threat to chickadees anyway. But I wonder if any readers have had a similar experience? Let me know!  

Black-capped Chickadee

2 comments:

  1. Hey Laura, long time no talk (30 years or so from the olden days of KUMD). Just as you posted the original post on chickadees I notices a nest hole in progress just across the driveway from our house. It's pretty low, about 4-5 feet up in a dead tree. So far, just excavation as far as I can tell.

    I also wanted to ask about the Evening Grosbeaks and other Spruce Budworm eating species such as Connecticut Warblers. We live in a large and prolonged area of infestation along the North Shore (so so many dead and dying fir trees) but have never really spotted these sort of species. Any thoughts?
    We have 27 identified species since the first week of April.

    Regards,
    D Williams

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  2. Evening Grosbeaks haven't nested here in any numbers at all since the 90s. They're very secretive during the actual nesting period, which is when they feed on budworms. Most of the year they're more tied to seeds.
    I've never read of a connection between Connecticut Warblers and spruce budworm. The warblers connected to it include Bay-breasted, Cape May, and Blackburnian, all of which have very high-frequency songs and stay very high in the trees. It's impossible for such tiny, territorial species to have much impact on the budworm numbers, and unless you're really searching the treetops, they can be very hard to find during the breeding season.

    Nice hearing from you!

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