The Working Waterfront

Cohabitating with the chickadees


Phil Crossman
Posted 2020-10-28
Last Modified 2020-10-28

I’m not an ornithologist but I do enjoy providing for and being entertained by birds, and I can count on that happening day after day as, ever accommodating, we monitor feeders on all sides from each kitchen window, nearly always mindful of our responsibilities.

On those rare occasions when I am lax, the numerous regulars, mostly black capped chickadees, our state bird, are quite brazen in letting me know I’ve failed them. On more than one occasion I’ve heard what I thought was a bird colliding with my window, as they now and then do, mistaking the clean glass for open space, only to find it’s a chickadee pecking at the window to alert me to the fact that the feeder is empty or nearly so.

A chickadee in the nearby lilac, aware that the shortest distance between it and the feeder is a straight line, often finds my head an annoying obstacle…

The chickadees don’t migrate far or much at all—doubtless they have discerned there’s no need, since they are so well cared for right here. Perhaps because this species has been patronizing our feeders and this neighborhood for so long, the chickadee is remarkably untroubled by my own presence or that of friends and family, while nonetheless finding the deep foliage of a vibrant lilac bush next to the feeder an irresistible refuge.

One would think, given the repeated retreats to the security of those branches, that this bird is very insecure and cautious. In fact, the opposite is true. I have found, walking up the steps from my driveway to my front door, that a chickadee in the nearby lilac, aware that the shortest distance between it and the feeder is a straight line, often finds my head an annoying obstacle and, on more than one occasion has come very close indeed to aggressively demonstrating that annoyance.

On the other hand they haven’t hit me—yet—and I take that to indicate that they know, on some level, that I have something to do with the feeders being repeatedly replenished and so tolerate my otherwise annoying and impeding presence.

But each fall the chickadees have occasion to become particularly and justifiably proprietary when visitors that are not our customary diners here at Chez Seeds in Abundance descend in large numbers, and with very little regard, none in fact, for an established pecking order, to fuel up for the long flight ahead. The environment around the feeders during this time is not unlike that which exists here around Memorial Day as our comfortable routines are dependably disrupted by the arrival of our own seasonal visitors.

On the other hand, also not unlike most of us, the chickadees do seem to accommodate the intruders without too much fuss.

Phil Crossman lives on Vinalhaven.