Sunday, March 15, 2009

Curious chickadee

We have a most curious looking Black-Capped Chickadee. It's got a deformed beak. Its beak is very long and curves down in a graceful arc. Before any of you soft-hearted folks like me start wailing and gnashing your teeth, let me assure you that it seems to be doing just fine. This chickadee has been a regular visitor to our feeding station all winter, and it survived the unusually extended cold, the -50s, the wild winds, and all of the other... >cough cough<... interesting weather events this year. I have watched it pick up seeds on the ground, and also watched it pick seeds out of the seed hopper. Two days ago, I shoveled snow off the deck and it came and watched me work for several minutes. It hopped along the logs and seemed to be hunting for bugs. Our neighbor, the ornithologist, says that there are several reports of chickadees in the area with deformed beaks. Actually, I have seen this chickadee so many times and have so many photos of it, that I suspect there are more than one. Could be several who are regular feeder visitors, which is why I have so many sightings.

We have over 4 dozen Redpolls, both Common and Hoary, a Hairy Woodpecker pair, a female and male Downy Woodpecker who may or may not be a mated pair, one Boreal Chickadee, and three Grey Jays who are regular feeder visitors. We installed a new tray feeder this week, along with the suet and the mixed feed hopper and the sunflower feeder. The tray hopper was an immediate success, especially with the Hairy Woodpeckers and the Redpolls. One Red Squirrel visits, who seems to nest west of the house somewhere in the woods. We don't have any house nesters this year, thanks, I suspect, to the efforts of foxes and the ever butch Borealys.

One more interesting noteworthy ornithological event... After I shoveled the deck two days ago, I was pooped. There was four feet of snow to shovel, and I've been rather sedentary this winter, so after I scooped all but the last 1/2 inch of ice off the deck, I collapsed in a chair next to the wall and basked in the sun. I was in heaven. It was warm and bright, in the 20s, and the sun reflecting off the wall of the house and the snow felt glorious. All of a sudden, 14 Redpolls swarmed down and surrounded me! I did not dare move, and I watched them out of the corner of my eyes. They were pecking tiny bits of ice, probably October's sleet storm, gobbling them greedily. One was so close to me, I measured about 4 feet away from me, and pecking ever closer and closer. Then I glanced down and saw that two of them were under my legs! They were just inches from my body, and were happily snatching up tiny ice balls. Even when I shifted my legs a bit, causing them to fly away, the entire flock returned in seconds to continue to peck and munch. I felt like I had melded into the Alaska wilderness and was just part of the background for the birds. I used their enjoyment of the tiny ice balls to call it quits on shoveling the deck. After all, I had uncovered a layer of October sleet that they really appreciated. Who am I, a mere mortal, to deny these lovely birds what they want? :)


  1. St. Francis of Ester! Delightful to be surrounded by birds.

    Did your neighbor have any ideas why the chickadee beaks might be deformed?

  2. MP--we didn't talk about causation. I think I'll email him and ask him what he thinks. I'll let you know what he says. Thanks for your note. I'm coming to visit your place later tonight.