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Chicadee

( Originally Published Ealry 1900's )



The Chicadee is the hero of the woods; there are courage and good nature enough in that compact little body, which you may hide in your fist, to supply a whole groveful of May songsters. He has the Spartan virtue of an eagle, the cheerfulness of a thrush, the nimbleness of Cock Sparrow, the endurance of the seabirds condensed into his tiny frame, and there have been added a pertness and ingenuity all his own. His curiosity is immense, and his audacity equal to it; I have even had one alight upon the barrel of the gun over my shoulder as I sat quietly under his tree.- ERNEST INGERSOLL.

HOWEVER careless we may be of our friends when we are in the midst of the luxurious life of summer, even the most careless among us give pleased attention to the birds that bravely endure with us the rigors of winter. And when this winged companion of winter proves to be the most fascinating little ball of feathers ever created, constantly overflowing with cheerful song, our pleased attention changes to active delight. Thus it is that in all the lands of snowy winters the chickadee is a loved comrade of the country wayfarer; that happy song, " chick-a-dee-dee-dee," finds its way to the dullest consciousness and the most callous heart.

One day in February we were, with much enjoyment, wading through a drifted highway that skirted a forest, the least twig of which bore a burden of soft snow. Over all hung that silence of winter which is the most " silent silence " that rests upon the earth anywhere outside the desert. No breeze swayed a creaking branch or shook from it the snow in soft thud to the white carpet below. Even the song of the brook was smothered beneath coverlets of ice and pillows of drift. We stood fast, awed by the stillness, when suddenly it was broken by the thrilling notes of the chickadees. We could hardly credit our senses, for it seemed as if the woods were a hopeless place for any living creature that morning. But there before our eyes was a flock of these courageous birds hunting for food on the leeward sides of boles and branches left bare and black in the recent storm. Their tiny weights sent the snow in showers from the terminal twigs, which phenomenon was greeted with triumphant song while the cheerful midgets hunted the relieved branches topside and bottomside for any lurking tidbit. As we watched them, Emerson's poem came to mind:

Piped a tiny voice near by,
Gay and polite, a cheerful cry—
Chick-chickadeedee! saucy note
Out of sound heart and merry throat,
As if it said, ' Good-day, good Sir !
Fine afternoon, old passenger!
Happy to meet you in these places
Where January brings few faces."

No wonder that the great American philosopher was attracted by this other American philosopher who sings when he is cold and hungry.

Besides its usual song the chickadee has a song that says " phoebe " much more distinctly than does the song of the phoebe itself. Few people recognize this, and often in February or early March it is announced in the local newspaper, " The phoebe-birds were heard to-day " though it may be weeks yet before these birds arrive. The two songs may be easily distinguished by even the ear untrained to music. In the phoebe song of the chickadee, the last syllable is at least one note lower than the first and has a falling inflection; while the last syllable of the phoebe bird's song is at least a half note higher than the first and has a rising inflection.

Not long since I visited the deserted nest of a devoted pair of chickadees. It was cuddled down in the bottom of a hole that opened on the very top of a fence post, and, one would imagine, must have been, wet more than once while inhabited. However, a large family was raised there during the past season and much enjoyment was derived from watching the many fubsy birdlings that found home and comfort in that unattractive retreat. I looked upon them with special interest, for I was sure they would visit the suet on my trees this winter and thus become friendly neighbors.

As soon as the trees are bare, nail or tie bits of suet to branches which may be observed from your windows. I know of no investment which pays such enormous dividends both to pleasure and pocket as do suet restaurants in orchards patronized by chickadees. Every child, at home or school, will be attracted by this experiment.



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