Phyllis Donovan: Why So Few Chickadees At Feeders?

Seasons come and seasons go as sure as Thanksgiving follows Halloween. In nature we’ve come to expect the same. But as the old saying goes, “Nothing stays the same.”

We always put out our bird feeders the week before Thanksgiving. We figure that the normal fare the birds have been happily snacking on in the wild all summer and fall has become pretty much picked over by then.

But this has been a most unusual year with killing frost holding off to the middle of November, so the birds have had plenty to eat for much longer than expected. That’s probably why it took several days for any of them to show up at the feeders we hung out there on the deck.

Normally, it’s the titmice and chickadees who discover this handout first before the noisy bluejays follow and spread the word. This year the titmice finally showed up on the third day the feeders were out there. But where were our favorites, the chickadees, those perky little balls of fluff with the black caps? We didn’t see a single one until several days later. And even he seemed to be alone.

Before long, the entire contingent of winter birds came to dine at our feeders: the cardinals, mourning doves, juncos, nuthatches, four types of woodpeckers, including a huge flicker, and a whole flock of scruffy house finches. All we lacked was a partridge in our pear tree…and our acrobatic chickadees.

We haven’t seen our resident Cooper’s hawk lately either, but we know he’s around when all the birds at our feeders fly away in a flock and it gets very quiet in our back yard and woods.

I wonder, however, if the hawk’s taste has changed to squirrels instead of birds because since we hung the feeders, I have only seen one squirrel on the deck. He didn’t stay around long enough to hang by his heels and raid my “squirrel-proof” bird feeders which are usually his first interest. He just grabbed a few seeds from the deck and disappeared.

I haven’t seen him or his furry relatives since, which gives me pause because usually I have quite a community of them living in my back woods and showing up for meals.

Speaking of meals, just as in nature, there were fewer family members around our Thanksgiving table this year with our large family splitting up to share the holidays with me. Two families of my five offspring came to visit me with my daughter and daughter-in-law providing the feast. The others will take turns visiting on later occasions.

With our Thanksgiving table scaled back to nine people instead of the usual 20-something, it was at least a step back to pre-Covid days. After having hosted the family feast for decades, my daughter Peg and her husband took over the task several years ago.

It is always such a joy to get the entire immediate family together at the same time. But with extenuating circumstances still preventing it this year, I just felt thankful for sharing the day with at least half of my brood and looking forward to seeing the rest soon.

This still being the season for being thankful, I appreciate having so much to be happy for including my large family and my backyard full of birds and critters.

Now if just more chickadees start coming back to my feeders, I will be one super-thankful woman.

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