Here to return to
THE chickadee, like many other birds, takes his name from his notes; from some of his notes, that is to say, for he has many others besides his best-known chick-a-dee-dee-dee. His most musical effort, regarded by many observers as his true song, sounds to most ears like the name Phoebe, — a clear, sweet whistle of two or three notes, with what musical people call a minor interval between them. It is so strictly a whistle that any boy can imitate it well enough to de ceive not only another boy, but the bird himself.
In late winter and early spring, especially, when the chickadee is in a peculiarly cheerful frame of mind, it is very easy to draw him out by whistling these notes in his hearing. Some times, however, the sound seems to fret or anger him, and instead of answering in kind, he will fly near the intruder, scolding dee-dee-dee.
He remains with us both summer and winter, and wears the same colors at all seasons.
Perhaps no wild bird is more confiding. If a man is at work in the woods in cold weather, and at luncheon will take a little pains to feed the chickadees that are sure to be more or less about him, he will soon have them tame enough to pick up crumbs at his feet, and even to take them from his hand.
Better even than crumbs is a bit of mince pie, or a piece of suet. I have myself held out a piece of suet to a chickadee as I walked through the woods, and have had him fly down at once, perch on my finger like a tame canary, and fall to eating. But he was a bird that another man, a woodcutter of my acquaintance, had tamed in the manner above described.
The chickadee’s nest is built in a hole, generally in a decayed stump or branch. It is very pretty to watch the pair when they are digging out the hole. All the chips are carried away and dropped at a little distance from the tree, so that the sight of them littering the ground may not reveal the birds’ secret to an enemy.
Male and female dress alike. The top of the head is black — for which reason they are called black-capped chickadees, or black-capped tit mice — and the chin is of the same color, while the cheeks are clear white. If you are not sure that you know the bird, stay near him till he pronounces his own name. He will be pretty certain to do it, sooner or later, especially if you excite him a little by squeaking or chirping to him.
Although the chickadee is small and delicate-looking, he seems not to mind the very coldest of weather. Give him enough to eat, and the wind may whistle. He picks his food, tiny in sects, insects’ eggs, and the like, out of crevices in the bark of trees and about the ends of twigs, and so is seldom or never without resources. The deepest snows do not cover up his dinner-table. His worst days, no doubt, are those in which everything is covered with sleet.
One of his prettiest traits is his skill in hang ing back downward from the tip of a swinging branch or from the under side of a leaf while in search of provender. As a small boy, who had probably been to the circus, once said, the chickadee is a “first-rate performer on the flying trapeze.”