Tuesday, November 5, 2013


Today the chickadees returned to the birdfeeder that hangs in a maple tree near our house. For most people, this is not a real significant event, but to me it is. For me, the return of the chickadees to my birdfeeder officially marks the beginning of the winter season.
          No, it is not the first snowfall that reminds me that I should be ready for the cold months ahead; it is not winter solstice on the calendar. Rather, it is when the first chickadee returns from spending the summer in the forest and comes looking for the black sunflower seeds waiting for them in the birdfeeder.
I took this photo this morning
It looks like I shook the camera a little
(I was holding my cup of coffee at the same time)

I do not normally feed the birds in the summer. The song birds that fly in from the warmer, southern climates in the spring sometimes visit my birdfeeder while I am still putting out seeds, but I do not continue feeding the birds for long. In the spring and all through the summer, there is plenty of food for the birds to find in the wild. And in the autumn, seed-bearing time, there is certainly much for the birds to eat.
It is only in the first parts of November that I begin to put out the sunflower seeds for the birds to find. By this time, most song birds have abandoned our northern climate and have winged their way south in search of warmer weather and more food. The chickadees, however, have not left us. They have merely come in from the woods to see if there might be something to eat around our home.
The chickadee represents some of the best qualities needed to exist in the boreal woods. When the cold weather comes, the chickadee does not abandon our northern climate for some warmer place that is easier to endure. It does not find a hole in the ground to sleep away the winter. Rather, the chickadee continues to flit about the branches of our trees looking for little bits to eat. During the frigid nights, they will fluff up their feathers so that the little birds resemble soft, round Christmas tree balls perching in the conifers. Despite their miniature size and unassuming demeanor, the chickadee is truly a survivor.

It is interesting to me to see what animals various nations have chosen as their national symbols. Nations who think great things of themselves usually choose animals that represent strength or that invoke fear. The Russians have their bear, the Chinese their dragon. England has chosen the lion, even though the lion is not native to that land either in reality or in legend. The United States is usually represented by the majestic bald eagle, with its predator-shaped beak and piercing eyes.
When the United States was in its founding years, Benjamin Franklin noted that he would have preferred the turkey as a symbol of our nation rather than the eagle. He wrote in a letter to his daughter, “You may have seen him [the bald eagle] perched on some dead tree near the river, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labour of the fishing hawk; and when that diligent bird has at length taken a fish…the bald eagle pursues him and takes it from him.”
In contrast, Franklin wrote that “The turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America... He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on.”

If I would have had the chance to talk with the bi-spectacled Franklin, I would have suggested that perhaps the chickadee might instead be a good symbol for our new nation. Granted, in warfare, the sight of a banner emblazoned with a chickadee may not tend to strike fear into the hearts of the opponents, but little bird reminds us of some of the best qualities of nature. These are the qualities that help it adapt to changing situations and to make do with what is available.
The chickadee does not depend upon carrion in order to feed; it does not live on handouts. However, if someone is kind enough to give them a hand through the cold winter, they will gladly bring some joy to a bird feeder. And, unlike some birds, when coming to the birdfeeder, the chickadee will not sit and engorge itself, leaving a mess behind. Rather, the chickadee will take a single seed, flit off to a nearby branch of a tree, and enjoy a peaceful and simple meal.
We would all do well to learn these qualities from our little northern friend. It would all make us a healthier and happier nation. I am happy to see the chickadees return to my feeder and I look forward to a long winter with them.

This photo is actually from last winter
No snow yet this year. They say we may get some tonight


My small log home is in the woods up north
And upstairs, a little balcony.
It faces east, from where the sun comes forth,
But it’s shaded by a white pine tree.

In truth, so near the house the white pine grows
And its limbs grow so wide and so free,
That my balcony is, one could suppose,
Partially house and partially tree.

On frosty mornings I sit in my chair,
My mug of coffee warming my hands.
Its hot steam rising in the pre-dawn air,
I await the sun upon the land.

But not alone do I wait for the light,
In my nest on the branch of the tree.
I have company at that tree-limb height.
I am joined by four black-capped chickadees.

I have hung a birdfeeder for them there
And they enthusiastically come.
My friends don’t drink coffee (at least it’s rare),
Or I would gladly offer them some.

We have many birds in our summer trees,
But when fall comes they say with their song,
“We will be flying south now, if you please,
Your nights have grown too cold and too long.”

But my little friends, with their black-capped crests,
In our boreal days find their needs.
What a heart must beat in that tiny breast!
A dynamo fueled by sunflower seeds!

They may not sing of their enduring feats
By lusty song from top of a tree.
Their song is chickadee twitters and tweets
But their song sounds victorious to me!

So it is, as I await the sunrise,
I find myself in grand company.
They are grand indeed, despite their small size,
The Fellowship of my Balcony.

1 comment:

  1. The chickadee was one of my favorite parts of the Northwoods. They are truely a delight to watch. I wish they had a liking for the Northern Montana Prairie! Tell Vivian "Hi!" for me. ~Lisa


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