FAIRBANKS — The chirping of chickadees has returned and I for one couldn’t be happier.
Granted, the melodic, whistling songs of the flighty, little birds are a sign that winter is here, or at least not very far off, but it’s not like we didn’t know that would happen.
This is Fairbanks, Alaska after all. Based on my 26 years residing here, winter is pretty much guaranteed. It will snow. It will get dark. It will get cold.
Likewise, the chickadees will return. Not that they’ve gone anywhere, mind you. They’re locals, not tourists like a lot of those other birds that fly to Alaska each spring when the weather gets nice and then hightail it out of here before the snow flies. We just don’t see or hear them much in the summer, at least not like we do in the winter when they flock to our bird feeders on a daily basis and offer proof that life does really exist at 40 below.
If geese are the harbingers of spring in Fairbanks, chickadees are the pallbearers of winter. They first showed up at my house a few weeks ago. I was out cleaning up around the yard, getting ready for winter of course, when I heard something I hadn’t heard in almost six months.
I glanced around and sure enough, there was a black-capped chickadee hopping around in one of my wife’s rose bushes, which just so happens to be situated right under where I hang our bird feeders in the winter.
“Chick-a-dee-dee-dee,” which I believe translated to human language means “feed-me-me-me.”
Indeed, it was almost as if the bird was asking me where the bird feeders were, which filled me with a sudden sense of overriding guilt. I hadn’t gotten around to hanging the bird feeders up yet, though it had been on my list of things to do for a week or two. Now, with the leaves gone and the grass and insects dead, the bird was reminding me it was time to be fed.
The guilt was too much. I dropped what I was doing and ran over to the car port where I had stashed the bird feeders when I took them down in the spring. I grabbed an old, traditional feeder with a roof and glass side windows. I found an old mushing tug line, complete with a brass snap, to hang it up.
Now the only problem was that the feeder was empty. Then I remembered I had some sunflower seeds in a Rubbermaid container in the garage leftover from last winter. I had put them in the container after squirrels tore the bag open, only to have the squirrels then chew through the plastic container top to get at the seeds. After filling the feeder, I put a tray of seeds on the deck below the chokecherry trees.
One of the amazing things about chickadees is how quickly they home in on a food source. They can find a bird feeder in the winter quicker than a mosquito can find exposed skin in the summer. Even if you’ve never put a bird feeder up in the past, go ahead and put one up and see how soon the chickadees show up.
It took only a minute or two after I hung up and filled the feeder for the lone chickadee that had showed up at my house to return, grab a seed and fly off somewhere to eat or stash it. Within a few minutes, a few more birds showed up, bobbing up and down as they flew to the feeder, landed, grabbed a seed and flew off. It’s a scene that will repeat itself over and over during the next six months.