Thursday, August 14, 2008

The homeless Chickadee

In mid April I noticed him in the wood pile. A tiny chickadee, busy popping up and down in the crevices between logs. He was there again the next day, working among the logs in the same spot as the day before.

I was curious so I walked over to see what the little chickadee was up to. The wood pile is only a couple feet high, just a few old logs I use as photography props. As I approached the log pile, the chickadee scrambled out of a hole in the top log. Scolding me with loud dee-dee-dee-dees, he flew into a nearby tree.

The chickadee had indeed been busy. He had hollowed out a hole in the soft part of a rotten log. He was building a house for a new family, but in a very dangerous place. The log he had chosen was accessible to raccoons, squirrels, and worst of all Toby the Terrible Tabby. It was certain the chickadee family would not have survived a week in that spot.

It broke my heart to destroy his hard work, but I shifted his log so that he couldn’t reach the hole. I hoped he would find another place high in the trees to make a new nest. Unfortunately, he didn’t do that. This little guy had no sense of danger or maybe just no common sense at all. He was so desperate to have a home, he was making some terrible decisions.

The next day he and the missus were in and out of a decorative log cabin birdhouse that hangs in an amalanchier tree outside the dining room window. In the 5 or more years that little decoration has hung there, no birds have been foolish enough to try to nest in it. This little house, although cute, has a gaping hole that would have allowed squirrels, raccoons and both the dreaded house sparrow and European starling easy entrance.

I could not bring myself to take another home away, but I couldn’t let him stay there and be killed by a house sparrow or a starling. So, off to the wild bird supply to pick up a nice cedar nest box. It took me a long time to get it ready, add a 1.25 hole reducer, and properly mount it on a pole. A handy man could have had this house up in half an hour. It took me 4 hours. That’s how clever I am with tools.

The next morning before sunrise, the little log cabin was whisked from sight into the garage. I was pretty sure the chickadees would find the new cedar house very quickly.

When I got home from work that evening, Chickadee and the missus were both excited, flying in and out of the new post mounted, absolutely safe, cedar dwelling. I had located the new house in a scenic spot with a view of three Austrian pine threes and a lovely rugosa rose.

I kept an eye on the pair as they furnished their new home with a deep layer of soft green moss. On top they laid a fluffy blanket of cat hair (donated by my house cats). When they finished, it was as cozy as it could be. One by one eggs appeared in the hollow of moss until there were five. Whenever I checked, Mrs Chickadee had covered her eggs with the warm layer of cat fur before leaving the box.
All the eggs hatched and Mom and Dad made endless trips to bring the tiny hatchlings back food. I was concerned toward the second week. The house wrens had arrived. House wrens have a horrible reputation for breaking eggs and killing the young of other birds. The hole reducer that had kept the sparrows from entering the new house would not stop a wren. Either good luck or good vigilance on the part of the chickadee parents prevented disaster and all the babies thrived and left the nest to begin their new lives.

So the story of the homeless chickadee has the best possible ending. I would like to believe the entire family will remain in the area visiting my feeders. Come next spring, I will be ready with more nest boxes in case any chickadees find themselves homeless.

For more information on helping cavity nesting birds here are two sites to check out:

Gardening for Wildlife



Sophie Sexton said...

I follow both your, and Troutbirder's blog, and was wondering if you could help me identify a flower growing in my backyard? I posted pictures of it today.

Thank you.

Di DeCaire said...

A compelling story and I see you like daylilies. They can appear less brilliant in color on a cooler year such as this, and are also affected by soil nutrients. Your place is absolutely charming and lovely.

Have you tried reading Susan Isaacs?

Gail said...

I love a story with a happy ending! You are a good steward of your garden and its critters! They will be back and bring their friends and you will have to put in a nice housing development with a pool and a few good restaurants nearby!

btw, I love's a great site!

flydragon said...

What a great story, especially since it still had such a happy ending after all the moving those little chickadees went through. Love those little birds!! You must too since you went through all that to help them out.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful hostess you have been to these sweet little birds. I have been putting up nesting boxes in my garden this year to provide homes for the birds too. Thanks for the great link.

Dog_geek said...

Aww, I love a happy ending! I love chickadees. We had a pair of sparrows build their nest in one of my hanging flower baskets this year. I wonder how many times I watered it before I noticed.

Anonymous said...

oh Marnie, you can thank yourself for helping them achieve their happy ending. It's something I would have done, I have such a soft heart and want to see all these wonderful birds survive. What a great thing you did because you were observant and proactive. My hat's off to you!

tina said...

I was mesmerized through the whole story. What a good ending.

TC said...

Why do I always think of W. C. Fields when I hear talk of chickadees?

Regardless, it sure was kind of you to go to all that "trouble" for the little birdies. My Mother in Kentucky would be able to name many bird species, I cannot.

I know robins, we had one here who sang his heart out starting at precisely 5:00am each morning for most of the summer.

I was thinking a bluebird box would be appropriately sized for chickadees. I used to have boxes out for bluebirds but none ever nested.

I miss the song of the whippoorwill, used to hear them all the time when I lived in Kentucky.

Randy said...

What a wonderful story! He was a very determined little thing. Your photos are wonderful, I'm so happy you paid us a visit and I was able to visit your blog. I see you like daylilies; we have over 60 cultivars of them in our little garden. I really need to start giving more consideration to color combinations when planting. I’m starrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrting to think about it, but right now I’m not giving it as much thought as I should. I’m looking forward to following your blog, I know I’m going to enjoy it. -Randy

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Sophie. I visited your blog and ID'd one of the flowers--I hope.

Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment. You're from Illinois too, right?

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi di decaire. I remember your unusual blog name and the stunning garden photos on your site.

I do like daylilies. I have lots more photos when I get time to post them.

Susan Isaacs doesn't ring any bells. I'll look her up on amazon. Is this an author you would recommend?

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hey Gail. I can visualize a little village springing up around the 24 hour cafe (bird feeder). I do have a pool (birdbath;) At the rate I put up nest boxes, I better quit my job so I have time to build this village.

Roses and Lilacs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Roses and Lilacs said...

Perennial gardener, good luck with your nesting boxes. I hope you get some interesting birds.

Roses and Lilacs said...

Dog geek, I've done that too. To a robin. Poor thing. All of a sudden freezing water poured over her. She wasn't expecting that and I wasn't expecting a bird to fly out of a pot of petunias in my face.

Roses and Lilacs said...

Kathleen, thank you, I really enjoy observing the birds. I do everything I can to attract them to my farm.

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Tina. I'm glad you enjoyed the story. I believe this particular chickadee was a very young one. Probably hadn't made a nest or raised a family before. I would have hated to see something bad happen to him or his family.

Roses and Lilacs said...

TC, I miss the whippoorwills too. Haven't heard one in years.

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Randy. Thank you for visiting and leaving a comment.

I had a friend whose father was a daylily hybridizer. I wish I lived closer to him. I would have daylilies instead of grass:)

You have a beautiful blog site. I'm glad I found it.

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi flydragon. I like all birds but have a really soft spot for chickadees. They always seem so cheerful and full of life. I like the little sounds they make. Sounds like something mechanical:)

Cosmo said...

Marnie--Wonderful photographs! I hope those little birds stick around and enjoy your care (and your fabulous garden).

Morning Glories in Round Rock said...

What a sweet story--I do love a happy ending! Your photos are wonderful.

I grew up in the Quad Cities area, so I know you live in beautiful country. Thanks for visiting my blog.


Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Cosmos. Thanks, I hope so too. They bring a lot of enjoyment.

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Jenny, thanks for stopping to visit and leaving a comment. The Quad Cities is a really nice area. Seems they always get worse weather than we do farther west.

marmee said...

loved your story and you were so quick to fix things for the cute little family of chick-a-dees. i am sure they will be back to repay you for your kindness to them and babies. great images too!

100 Thoughts of Love said...

Oh I love the little chickadees that live in my yard...I have an old wood fence with a subdivision of various birdhouses...All are taken over by chickadees, but interestingly, a few go untouched...after reading your post, I guess the fact that all the rejects have large entrance I know! I will stick with little doorways from now on!

Daisy said...

Absolutely perfect! What a great story!

You should take your photos and narration and develop a children's book. I think it would be wonderful for communicating information on wildlife biology and conservation and ecology to little ones at an early age... cause I hear you've got to brainwash them while they're young!

beckie said...

Marnie, you do have a big heart! i don't know that I would have gone to all the trouble you did, but I'm glad there was a happy ending. Good for you!

Iowa Victory Gardener said...

Hi Marnie,
Fantastic post that you have had germinating all these months! I really love how you made all that effort to provide him with a good home ... We never see chickadees here in the city, and count ourselves lucky with the hummingbirds, goldfinches, cardinals and robins. (Of course we have the pests: blackbirds, starlings, etc.) I'm still in awe of the that indigo blue bunting you posted a while back! That was a revelation to me....

Roses and Lilacs said...

Good morning Marmee. I hope you're right. I wouldn't want to garden without their cheerful calls and constant motion.

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Pat. I'll bet your little fence community is really cute. You're lucky to get several families in your houses.

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Daisy. I wonder why nature studies and conservation aren't taught in schools and libraries. I think it makes a huge difference if you can introduce young minds to these ideas.

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Beckie. It was only a lot of trouble because I'm so inept;)

When my Dad belonged to the local Audubon club, he and a few members would make 200 blue bird houses in a weekend (make from scratch). If it wasn't for his failing eye sight, he would set up dozens of houses for me.

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi IVG, yes aren't those indigo buntings spectacular? Unfortunately we don't see many and only for a brief time.

I had the chickadee photos for my personal garden journal and thought some might enjoy the story.

RURAL said...

Oh what a wonderful story. I am so glad that everything worked out well. You put a such lot of effort into saving those chickadees. Most other people would have given up a long time ago.

Happy that you visited my blog, because now I have found yours. I will be a regular visitor.

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi MBD and thank you for stopping by to visit and leave a comment.

I agree with your opinions of mosquitoes. I wish there was a way to get rid of them and make time outside in the garden more pleasant.

I'll stop by your blog soon to see your new photos.

Anonymous said...

Great story-I am so glad it had a happy ending.

Dig, Grow, Compost, Blog said...

Wow, I'm so glad I stopped by and caught your chickadee story. Next time the wrens (or other birds) in my yard try to make a nest where they'll be too vulnerable, I'll make the effort to get a proper nest for them. I'm glad you had a happy ending!