Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Chickadee Return

            The germination of this essay actually began several weeks ago, but my computer died so I had no way to share my thoughts at the time.  Ironically, in the meantime conditions changed, and I have to write a different article now. 

            Initially, I wondered what happened to all the chickadees that used to flock to our winter feeder.  For years, we could count on ten or maybe more black capped fellows swarming the feeder to gobble black oil sunflower seeds and dash from branch to branch as if they knew they were the day’s entertainment.  Suddenly in November of 2004 our chickadees vanished.

My husband and I asked several bird watching friends if they knew what had happened to the happy scavengers who shared our hillside for years, but no one seemed to know.  A few friends mentioned they, too, had noticed a reduction in the chickadee population, but they couldn’t account for their absence.

I got on the Internet to see what I could find out and discovered the 2004 Kansas winter bird count revealed diminished, if not absent, chickadee populations around the state.  I realized this wasn’t just local. Whatever was going on was going on all over the state.  One person in the article hypothesized that West Nile had taken its toll on these charming backyard feeders, but that seemed a bit odd, since we had chickadees at the feeder well into November, long past when mosquitoes would transmit this disease.

While we enjoyed the juncos, nuthatches, cardinals, and periodic visits from gold finches and blue jays, we missed our chickadees’ funny antics at the feeder.  As spring evolved, I longed to hear their cheery songs as they fought and scrapped over mates, territory, and food.  I began to wonder if every chickadee in the land had disappeared.

That was a negative as I discovered when I traveled to Leadville, Colorado, to attend High Mountain Institute in early June.  Chickadees flocked to their feeders and dashed from one evergreen branch to another.  I met a bird watcher from Albuquerque who assured me she saw plenty of these little birds in her backyard.  What a relief to know that one of my favorite birds hadn’t gone the way of the passenger pigeon, but I still wondered what happened to the flocks that once shared my hilltop.

Thanksgiving 2005 came and went without a chickadee sighting, so I had given up on their comeback.  Imagine my surprise on Christmas day when my mother, looking at the feeder, said, “Isn’t that a chickadee?”  I hastily assured her we didn’t have chickadees so she must have mis-identified the bird.  Just to be sure, I glanced at the feeder to realize mom had, indeed, spotted a chickadee.  What an unexpected Christmas present. 

Over the next few days I spotted a lone chickadee dashing in for a bite, and then one day I saw two flitting from branch to branch as they competed with the other birds and squirrels for a chance at dinner.  I don’t know where they’ve been, but I am glad they are back, and they are welcome to invite all their friends and relatives.

No comments:

Post a Comment