Thursday 23 May 2013

Flight of the chickadees

For the past couple of weeks, I've been observing a lot of activity in the birdhouse beside my driveway. I had installed it purely as a decoration - a scruffy old thing, poorly made, and simply jammed into the fork of a laburnum tree just a few feet above the ground, tied in place with a piece of string. But something about this fixer-upper must have appealed to a young black-capped chickadee couple because they decided it would be a perfect place to raise their family.

I suspected nothing till the eggs hatched and suddenly there was a flurry of chickadee activity. I observed much to-ing and fro-ing on the part of Mom and Pop Chickadee, bearing bugs and bits of food into the nest to feed their brood and, in an effort to keep things tidy, taking away the you-know-what that all hungry, growing babies produce. Over the ensuing days, tiny baby bird peeps developed into raspy "chick-a" sounds, then finally into full-fledged, three syllable "chick-a-dee" vocalizations. When I heard that familiar sound I knew the babies' time to fly the coop must be imminent and hoped I'd be around to witness the moment.

Imagine my horror a day or two later when I noticed the nest had been vandalized! A piece of the roof had been torn right off and the cord securing the birdhouse to the tree had been severed. I figured a tragedy must have taken place over night - a squirrel or a crow had probably raided the nest and enjoyed some plump chicklets for breakfast. I plucked the birdhouse down, figuring I'd dispose of it, but when I glanced inside I spied a familiar little black-capped head. The nest was still filled with a cluster of perfect, fully fledged, tiny chickadees! I hastily put the birdhouse back and began strategizing as to how I could repair it without completely disturbing the little family.

Then suddenly, as I mulled the problem over, the babies one-by-one began leaving the nest and fluttering little birds were soon everywhere! The youngsters flitted ineptly about, seeking safety while the parents shouted advice and instructions. One youngster made it to a big honey locust tree, another into a rhododendron shrub. One confused baby flew right through the open garage door and I had to retrieve it from beneath the car. But soon three little birdies were rounded up by their anxious parents and more-or-less safe in the locust tree.

In the locust tree.
In the rhododendron shrub.
Clinging to a window screen.
I was not the only witness to these fledglings' grand entrance into the world. Both my cats were avid observers, enjoying the proceedings from behind glass so no hapless young chickadee could be harmed.

A pair of squirrels also arrived on the scene for their afternoon raid on my birdfeeders but they soon left again when I threatened to send the dog after them. I'm sure they were just humouring me. My slow, old dog is about as much of a threat as a tree stump.

When the show appeared to be over, I once again tried to remove the birdhouse but to my surprise there were still two babies inside. What a big brood! This was one prolific pair of chickadees. I decided to secure the birdhouse with some wire and tied a piece of wood over the hole in the roof, hoping the remaining two babies would be safe a while longer.

During the course of the afternoon, I saw one more baby make his/her leap into the big wide world. Throughout the rest of the afternoon and into the evening Mom and Pop Chickadee continued to visit the now-refurbished birdhouse to feed the fifth fledgling who stubbornly refused to leave the nest. By next morning the patched-up birdhouse was still intact and the adults were still on the scene. However by that day's end all was calm, no babies or adults remained, and I was thankfully able to remove the rickety birdhouse and dispose of it.

I hope to see the chickadee family in the days to come and that Mom and Pop will bring their brood to my birdfeeders. Before next spring rolls around I'll install a proper birdhouse in the same location, just in case another family would like to take up residence but in a safer, sturdier home.

Chickadees never fail to make me smile. They're regular visitors to the birdfeeders by my studio window and I awaken to their song each morning. Needless to say are very much a part of my life as an artist. They're regular subjects for my coloured pencils, and a while back I captured them on silk. This little painting was presented to my nephew's twin baby girls for their first birthday.

"Chickadee Twins" silk painting

Fly free little chickadees! And come back soon for a visit.

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