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Upon returning from a full Saturday on a new trail, I actually said that. I take it back.

The Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) is one of the most common birds where I live. They are readily seen in urban, suburban and natural areas. They will visit bird feeders and nest in artificial nest boxes.

So when I spent an entire Saturday walking a new (to me) greenbelt trail, I very dejectedly admitted upon my return home that I “only got a chickadee.” When I say “got,” I mean photographed. I also saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker, Tufted Titmice, American Crows, and even Common Grackles. (I have to say, grackles are much more impressive in a natural setting, as opposed to their typical dumpster habitats). Turkey Vultures and hawks were soaring overhead as well. Even for birders who are listers, this would normally rate as real dud of a birding day.

When I looked through my pictures, I noticed something really interesting and unexpected. I knew that I had a series of pictures of a chickadee hanging on a dead leaf. Yawn. How picturesque, to have a plain ol’ chickadee on a dead, brown leaf. When I looked closer, I realized that I had captured a chickadee robbing a spider’s web of a tasty larvae.

I read through 3 guide books and one online source, and none of them noted this particular method of feeding. By all accounts, chickadees routinely eat insects and larvae, gleaning from twigs, leaves and even dead leaves. I could be wrong about this, but I think this chickadee was helping itself to a spider’s goodie-bag. I have commented before on spider webs that are cleverly shaped as funnels so that prey slides right down to the happy spider. Since chickadees eat spiders AND they eat what spiders eat…I’m thinking this chickadee is pretty smart! Not all funnel webs would work for the chickadee – this is another one I saw that day, but looks like it might be hard for the chickadee to rob:

While all of this is neat and fun, I do have a larger point. Whether this feeding activity is unique or not, or even if the chickadee was simply nabbing a larvae from a dead leaf – and a funnel web just happened to be attached – my point is that every bird is interesting and valuable, no matter how often I see it.

In fact, every living thing is interesting, and important, and worthy of its life. As humans, at the very top of the food chain, we often ask ourselves what purpose does that biting mosquito or ugly rat serve? Couldn’t we live without poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) ? Why not clear those old Hackberry (Celtis laevigata) and Bodark (Maclura pomifera) trees to make room for some bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana) ?

As an avid gardener, I know how tempting it is to plant the showiest plants at the nursery, and spray every bug that moves. Resist. It gets easier when you understand more about the web of life, and how interconnected all living things are. We are interconnected with each other, and with the environment that we all share on earth. Knowledge is the key to this understanding, and the source of my continual fascination with nature. I am confident that if I help others learn along with me, I am helping nature and human beings at least a little.

Range Map Compilers: NatureServe, 2002-2005

Global Range Comments: Resident from southern Kansas east to central Indiana, southern Pennsylvania, and central New Jersey south to southern Texas, Gulf Coast, and northern peninsular Florida. 1 Aknowledgements. 2

This map shows the range for the Carolina Chickadee for the US and Canada. It looks to me like roughly 1/3 of the area in the United States gets to see this bird, the other 2/3 would have to travel to see it. The Carolina Chickadee does not migrate – it lives in the area shown above and pretty much stays there.

So in summary, I would like to rephrase. “I got a Chickadee!!” 🙂

  1. Ridgely, R.S., T.F. Allnutt, T. Brooks, D.K. McNicol, D.W. Mehlman, B.E. Young, and J.R. Zook. 2003. Digital Distribution Maps of the Birds of the Western Hemisphere, version 1.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia, USA.
  2. “Data provided by NatureServe in collaboration with Robert Ridgely, James Zook, The Nature Conservancy – Migratory Bird Program, Conservation International – CABS, World Wildlife Fund – US, and Environment Canada – WILDSPACE.”

6 Responses to ““Only a Chickadee.””

  • We have all said things like that and immediately taken them back. Your title made me smile. I too adore chickadees.

  • […] a chickadee?!? What do you mean only a chickadee? M: Come on. I know what Amber Coakley says about the importance of all living things in the web of life but really, we’re looking for special birds here. R: Chickadees are very special to me. A […]

  • Hi Amber, what a great post! We have Mountain Chickadees here in Northern California and I love them. What a super capture you have, getting that little guy eating out of the spider web.

    The important thing is, we have all gone out birding, and I did this just last week, we see a bird that we see all the time and say, “oh, it’s just a Turkey Vulture” (in my case). I’m sure there are many birders on this planet that would love to see a Turkey Vulture as well as many other local species I get to see every day.

    It is indeed important to realize how we are all connected with all living things and possibly make the world a little better every day. Thanks for the great post.

  • Wonderful observation and thoughtful post. We are fortunate to have Carolina chickadees in our area in TN. They are one of the hardy little birds that persist all winter and brighten each day. Our inter-connectedness with all living things is very precious. It’s there whether we notice it or not.

  • Really good post! I’ve come to the same conclusion myself on a number of occasions.-Sometimes we judge how good our birding day was by how many species we saw or by how uncommon they are.-In fact, you could make a study out of just one species if you wanted to-many people do-So we have to remember to take our birds for granted.-After all, that Chickadee might be a rarity some day-and wouldn’t that be a shame.

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