“Dee-dee-dee” I call. My chickadee neighbors respond, “Dee-dee-dee.” They flitter in as they chatter in happy call and response. I can only imagine they are saying something to the effect of: “The Seed Lady is back; breakfast is served.” I feel like Giselle from that film Enchanted. She calls out “ah-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah” and from all corners of the forest (or city), wild creatures reply. Was there a training process in her world? There certainly was in mine. But who the trainer or the trainee is difficult to say. The chickadees will call out to me and fly around the windows seeking me if I am later than 7:30 AM. Or if they decide that their first breakfast wasn’t enough because the Jays or red squirrel crowded them out. That calls for second breakfast. Or elevensies. I hear them, I see them, and whatever else it was I was doing is dropped. I don shoes, scoop seed into a cup, and out I go, into the cold. Yep, they have me trained. Chickadees swarm around me in what I perceive to be excitement. I started out feeding wild birds as entertainment for my indoor cat Cloe. But when Cloe passed on, I found these little black-capped friends kept me company all those long months without my beloved animal companion. Then I moved from one end of town to another and I wondered how my cute feathered friends would fare without me. Would they find me? It’s hard to say. But wherever I go, chickadees do find me. I have new chickadee friends. Possibly new generations of chickadee friends. I love the sensation of their tiny feet gripping my hand as I hold my hand out with sunflower seeds. I appreciate their trust in me and respect their need to be free.
Wild birds are, of course, not the same as a pet cat. They don’t really need me. They don’t rub up against me. They don’t purr in my ear. They don’t wash my cheek. They don’t sleep with me. (I do have cats for that.) Still, their very presence just makes me happy. “Dee-dee-dee” I call. The chickadees respond, “Dee-dee-dee.” My partner John teases me, calling me: Mother of Chickadees. It’s not really true. I do not read stories to my feathered friends or tuck them in at night. They don’t even tuck themselves in apparently. Chickadees shiver to stay warm. On really frigid nights these small songbirds, weighing all of about 12 grams, will go into a torpor, lowering their body temperature by 18-22 degrees. Can you imagine? To have that much stamina to shiver to keep warm! No wonder they eat so many seeds by day. And they certainly have their preferences. I have offered other seeds but they overwhelmingly prefer sunflower seeds – and not pre-shelled either. They are happy to take the seed off into the bushes and crack it open. Chickadees will cache seeds as well; saving them for when food is scarce.
Note: Though our resident song birds can take care of themselves perfectly fine without human intervention, once you start feeding them, it is best to keep up the activity throughout the winter as you have become a known food source and they exert valuable energy returning to you each morning in anticipation of an easy meal.
Welcome winter! Dee-dee-dee!
Into the Outside is a bi-monthly feature in the Ashfield News and Shelburne Falls & West County Independent. This article appears in the December 2017 edition of the Shelburne Falls & West County Independent.
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