Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Our Far-Flung Correspondents: Pam's Chickadees

Black-capped Chickadee

I recently did a program about chickadees trusting us, quoting a listener's story about chickadees getting the attention of a person to deal with a snake. On May 5, I heard from a blog reader named Pam with an exciting story about a pair of chickadees who needed help. She writes:  

We have a Chickadee house hanging from the front overhang of our house and accidentally bumped it in the dark of the evening.  We closed the garage door and went to bed.  The next morning we were up and my husband was looking out the kitchen window—the nest house is near the little tree by the kitchen window.  He saw a Chickadee fly from tree to garage window near tree and he kept this up going back and forth, rather panicky my husband thought, so he took a close look. In the garage, caught between the window and the blinds, was a little Chickadee (probably the female).  We believe they had eggs or babies in the nest house. She might have been sitting on the nest when the house was bumped, and she flew out and into the garage and was there all night. The male was trying to figure out how to get to her and he could not. My hubby went to the garage and gently put his finger near the Chickadee who landed on it but flew at the window when he tried to set her free—she must have seen the tree through the window. He gently pulled up the blinds farther and kind of scooped her toward the open garage door and out she flew.  We were upset because she had been in the garage on a very cold night and she was unable to sit with her babies/eggs.  

The chickadee flew between this tree and this window. 

If the one Chickadee had not kept up his panic flying from tree to garage window and back, we would not have known she was there and who knows what would have happened to her and the babies/eggs.  We are very careful now.  We really love watching our Chickadees everyday as they nest and feed the babies.  It is so neat because sometimes they both get food and bring it back to the tree and then fly into the birdhouse.  We can see the worms or whatever hangs from their little beaks.  Sometimes the female stays in the house and he brings food to her and she puts her little head up to the hole and we see her beak and head.  Sometimes one will be in the tree and flutter his/her feathers.  They are so special. 

Pam has an excellent strategy for keeping House Sparrows away from the nest box. She said:

When I see a House Sparrow in the tree, I go outside and talk to my Chickadees. They stay in the tree but the Sparrows usually fly off.

Black-capped Chickadees welcome into their feeding flocks not just chickadees but other species, such as nuthatches and warblers. It makes sense that a bird with such an open mind about other species would have an open mind about our species, too. It’s not that they’re wimps—they peck and bite fiercely when grabbed against their will, as bird banders can attest. But if they come to recognize us and we don’t violate their trust, they are surprisingly open to our assistance when needed. That open-minded sense of community is the secret of chickadee success. Human communities could learn a lot from them. 

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