Black and white flashes in the corner of my eye…. quick fast movements with a hint of friendly and inquisitive chatter…chickadees in the woods….
When I first came to Rocky River Nature Center as a naturalist one of my goals was to get outside and hike, hike, hike! One day as I headed out to take a walk around West Channel Pond I grabbed a hand full of sunflower seeds to entice the local chickadees. I had no idea how excited they would be.
A black-capped chickadee in the winter woods. Photo by Bob Boddy
Before I take you on my chickadee adventure, a little natural history about the chickadee will help you understand the actions of these birds. We have mostly black-capped chickadee here in north east Ohio but if you head south you may see the carolina chickadee as well. They are incredibly social and gather in flocks defending their territory with loud, harsh, call notes. They will come to feeders and love black oil sunflower seeds and suet. These tiny birds do not migrate but stay around all winter long and are usually accompanied by other winter bird residents like the tufted titmouse and white breasted nuthatch. Chickadees spend the cold months searching for hidden insects in the gray winter tree bark and add a whimsical theme to your snow covered backyard.
Chickadee’s are known for being very social birds and will even take a seed or two from your hand if you are lucky. Photo taken by Sharon Hosko
Back to the story….As I reached the area of the trail where chickadees are most present, I could already hear their raspy call notes floating through the crisp winter air. There was not another soul walking on the trails that day. The snow was falling softly and the beech tree leaves still clung tightly to the branches. In seconds they were upon me, chickadee-dee-dee they called, landing in the naked winter branches of the sugar maple trees.
I stretched out my ungloved hand, palm up, and full of sunflower seed offerings and stood quiet as a mouse. In seconds the chickadees were landing atop my fingers. Grabbing up seeds and flying back to their perch in the bare branches of the nearby trees to enjoy their feast. I had never had such a close and personal encounter with a bird before. They were light as a feather on my finger tips. I could see every line and detail of their tiny fluffy bodies. One chickadee in particular sat on my finger a little longer than the others and pecked at my pinky finger in search of a sunflower seed.
Chickadees do not migrate south for the winter like many other song birds but instead stay and brave the cold months by hunting for insects and eating birdseed form backyard feeders.
This encounter lasted only a few minutes but will remain in my mind for a life time. As naturalist’s we observe nature closely and try to make connections between people and the great outdoors; hand feeding a chickadee can do just that. You can come to Rocky River Nature Center, North Chagrin Nature Center and Brecksville Nature Center where there are naturalist lead hand feeding chickadee hikes through the winter season. It is important to remember that chickadees are wild animals and will make it through the winter months without being feed by humans.
If you want to truly see the beauty of nature, not just in chickadees but in all things in nature, take your time and use your senses; remember to look a little closer at the mossy rock at your feet or the bird over head. It could change your perspective on life as you know it.