By Bob Quarteroni
Colored spots of fluff with the hearts of lions and the courage of giants.
Chickadees. Brave, adventurous, curious, daring; small bodies and big attitudes; simply delightful.
The black-capped chickadee has fascinated people as long as birds and people have shared the outdoors.
What keeps people’s attention is the chickadee’s habit of investigating absolutely everything.
And what makes them truly unforgettable is their sheer daring, an ounce of feathers with the mindset of an amiable dinosaur.
I first became enamored of chickadees when, decades ago, I was living in a cabin at Whipple’s Dam State Park and installed a tray feeder outside a window.
I filled it with mixed seed and the usual suspects of titmice, juncos and sparrows showed up.
When the chickadees found it they made their presence known: When they had eaten all the black oil sunflower seeds they actually started pecking on my window to get my attention: Hey, buddy, let’s get the good stuff out here and now!
To check that I put a whole cup of sunflower seeds out and the pecking stopped. But as soon as the seeds were gone, the pecking started again: They’d hover in mid-air – which they are not able to do, learned folk say – and tap, tap, tap with their sturdy little beaks.
I remember laughing out loud in delight and then buying them a 50-pound bag of sunflower seed.
My love affair with these little guys – a group is called a banditry of chickadees.; almost as good as a murder of crows or a congress of owls – resumed after decades away from the area.
Back home, my center of operations became Frances Slocum State.
Some kind soul regularly patrols the lake’s perimeter and leaves sunflower seeds on top of the wooden guard rails all winter long.
Always one to take advantage of anyone’s kindness, I knew this regular feeding would saddle the banditry with a serious sunflower Jones, and an aching emptiness when the guard rails stood barren.
An emptiness I was only too happy to fill.
So armed with a Ziploc bag of sunflower seeds I went to the first noisy bramble patch, filled my hand with seed and stuck it out.
A moment of silence. Then the aerial dance began as they started darting around, up, down, sideways, trying to figure out why the seeds weren’t on the guardrails but instead were in what could be a pink trap.
This went on for a couple of minutes and just as I was about to move, one brave little lad zoomed over, clasped a finger, grabbed a seed, let out a cry and took off.
It was magic. The strength of his little claws, the feeling of a living thing crossing an invisible barrier to accept my offer, the wonder of the moment.
What a gift, what a treasure was handed me. I still thrill thinking about that first brave little soul.
After that, as they got used to me, more would come rocketing over for the seeds.
Not all, of course, but the bravest would come back again and again, and every time I would feel such an intense joy, a happiness that only the unexpected grace of the natural world can provide.
Feeding time is here again. Time to hang with the bandits, and feel that rush when a brave little bundle of improbability takes a chance and accepts my offer.
I may feed their little tummies but they return that a thousand-fold by filling my soul with their priceless food of a purely magic moment.
As Emily Dickinson said, “I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven.”