|One of our visitors|
Instead of demanding the master bedroom, they settled for the birdhouse—a recycled dwelling made from reclaimed barn wood, with a rusty tin roof and pink flowers painted on the front. I found it years ago at a booth devoted to hand-crafted bird houses in the Marin Farmers Market. It now hangs from a beam above our deck.
|Our rustic birdhouse|
|Male chickadee peeks out briefly before exiting|
|Camouflaged chestnut-backed chickadee keeping watch on a branch near her chicks|
One bird stood guard on a nearby branch, noisily calling, while the other tirelessly flew in and out, bringing food to their new chick(s). Then they would switch roles.
|One parent nervously keeps watch on deck wire|
When I filmed the family from the deck, the parents sang out their warning calls, hopping from railing to roof and back again in nervous agitation. It takes time and patience to catch these birds in a still moment. As William Leon Dawson, a leading ornithologist of he early 20th century wrote, "the chickadee refuses to look at any one thing from any one direction for more than two consecutive twelfths of a second...be it a pine cone, an alder catkin, a bug-bearing branchlet, top side, bottom side, inside, outside, all is right side to the nimble chickadee." Mr. Dawson wrote the respected four volume set The Birds of California, published in 1923. The sets are now rare and go for thousands of dollars, if you can find one.
|Baby chickadee visible inside the cozy birdhouse|
|Empty Birdhouse taken down for cleaning|
Good thing I photographed the chick on Sunday; by Monday the fledgling and parents had flown away without warning. The birdhouse was silent and empty.
We miss our little guests, and speculate about how many young they produced. We had seen only one offspring for sure, but chickadees are supposed to lay five to six eggs. This discrepancy is puzzling.
Chickadees do not reuse their nests, and they clean out the old debris when they're ready to start a new family. So I felt safe raiding the deserted birdhouse, to investigate. When I pointed a flashlight inside, I saw one unhatched egg and furry, matted material lining the floor. I carefully extracted the egg and then dug out the soft fur and small strips of redwood bark and moss. It resembled the dusty contents of my vacuum cleaner.
|Nesting material with one unhatched white, speckled egg|
So ends the saga of our chickadees. I tucked away the nest and egg, rather than throw them in my green bin, and I returned the birdhouse to its customary hook where it once again sways in the breeze, cleaned and ready for a new set of visitors.
*To hear the distinctive calls of the chestnut-backed chickadee and to read more about them, go to this amazing website: All About Birds