Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Moltin' Gold


Sometimes my mom would snatch me by the arm as I was barreling past to go outside, and say "Hold on. You look like nobody loves you." Then she'd scrub my face with a washcloth and punt me out the door. It made me all squinchy and I thought it was uncalled-for but I did absorb the fact that she cared. Dave says his mom did the same thing, only she'd pull a Kleenex out of her sleeve and spit on it, for extra love.

The thing is, when you love someone and feel some responsibility for them, you do pay attention to how they look--whether they're healthy, or presentable. And that is why I have been acutely aware of every feather on my personal chickadee Studley Windowson. As Yogi Berra might have said, you can observe a lot just by looking. And Studley lets me have a real close look, several times a week.

I've learned so much. But I'm not breaking any new ground. Other people are already on it. My friend Julie Zickefoose, the queen of noticing, l'arned me something new just the other day. I had observed that my chickadees take one seed from the feeder and go off to a branch to work it over, and that the goldfinches didn't, but I didn't know why. Turns out goldfinches aren't able to hold a seed in their feeties like the chickadees. Now, I'm not sure that puts the chickadees at an advantage. There they are chipping away at the solitary sunflower heart under their toes like someone cutting up a steak for a child, while meanwhile the finches go all Labrador-Retriever on their food, parking their fannies on a perch and hoovering seeds with their faces like nobody's business. But evidently everyone gets what they need.

Let me get you up to date on Mr. Windowson, though. He went through his complete feather molt last summer and looked like holy hell for a while before coming up crisp in his new winter suit. What should have been obvious to me--but wasn't--was that his perfect little black bib was not something that overlaid his white shirt. Most of his bib feathers are black, for sure, but the feathers making up the hem of the bib are bi-colored, black with white edges. Of course, I said to myself when I noticed the bi-colored feathers working their way out during the molt. Duh! And yet, like every new niblet of information, it dropped a pellet of joy in me, and those things add up.

But then last November, a shocking thing happened. Studley showed up for his snack and he had completely lost his tail. And I do not know any way that could have happened except that something pulled it out. Maybe a hawk, maybe a damn cat. I was horrified. I looked up cat traps for a half hour before realizing I'd probably end up trapping a possum, and I couldn't do it anyway; then I looked up missing tail feathers. If Studley's tail had been pulled out follicles and all, it wouldn't grow back. But if it had been snapped off (or bitten), and his diet was good, he might replace his feathers before the next summer molt.

I have five billion chilly mealworms in the fridge. I got yer diet right here, Studdles.

It grew back!

But I wasn't done learning. Studley takes as many worms as you care to give him when he's feeding his young'uns. But for the rest of the year, he takes four or five, just enough to maintain his ping pong ballish figure.

Until last week, when I met him on the front porch and fed him a worm, and another worm, and another, and...he took twenty-two worms. I'm not even sure that's good for a fellow. But finally I watched him more closely. He wasn't eating them. He was poking them in the little mossy bits in the tree. I knew they cached seeds, but live larvae? Hope they're still there when he comes back for them. Maybe he was throwing a party. There was one going on in my heart, for sure.

May we now pause to celebrate the coolest bird in the tri-county area?

The average lifespan for a wild black-capped chickadee is under two years. Predation is the primary problem. I don't know how old Studley is. That is because although I may have told you Marge and Studley Windowson have raised kids in our nest box for at least ten years, I really don't know they're the same birds every time. They's mighty sim'lar. But I do know when I first noticed Studley, because he showed up with the bum foot, and it wasn't a birth defect, but an injury. He kept it balled up in his belly fluff that whole summer of 2018, when he had to have been at least one, and returned the next year with functional but abbreviated toes. Studley D. D. D. Windowson is about to turn four, y'all. At least.

30 comments:

  1. Happy birthday, Mr Windowson! Many happy returns, and may your tail ever flourish!

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  2. I am super impressed. And believe that your support of Mr Windowson has contributed to his longevity. Thank you. And hooray for the return of his tail.

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    1. I'm stashing eleven years' worth of worms just in case.

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  3. You were super observant to see the lost tail and worry and wonder about it.

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    1. Ha! You don't have to be THAT observant when the little dickens is sitting on your finger!

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    2. The bird that looks really peculiar when it molts its tail feathers is the great-tailed grackle. They become so unstable that flying is untenable.

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    3. Oddly, Studley's flight seemed to be unaffected.

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  4. I take avian actuarial tables with a grain of salt. They always say that large parrots have these long life spans. Well, yeah, maybe SOME do. But, just as with people, sometimes they develop problems that go undetected and they die early. Then again, there was Winston Churchill's African Grey, who reportedly lived to be about 100. He was at Churchill's funeral, but had to be removed because he cursed so much. Personally, I think that nothing puts the "fun" in "funeral" like a little well-placed cursing. Then again, "they" say that squirrels have a mean life expectancy of 1-2 years, though sometimes as long as 7 years, or even longer known individuals who have lived to 12 years. Ummm.... couldn't these guys just say "I dunno," when asked about squirrel longevity?

    I always say that OUR squirrels should live long lives because they have so much to feed on here and so many trees for nesting. They really have no reason to venture forth and get hit by cars. We had a squirrel we named "Blondie" back in the 90s to the early aughts. We suspect that one of her distant relations is currently a squirrel on our property that we call "Blondie." Obviously not the same squirrel, but it should be fairly easy to keep up with her age as she looks so distinctive.

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    1. Make notes! Once you can identify any individual, you've got no end of fun ahead of you. And worry. And putting away college funds.

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  5. Live long and prosper, Studley!

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    1. New chickadee-manufacturing season coming right up...

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  6. Love this! The whole time I was reading it, I couldn't get out of my head The First Lab Experiment in Biology class, where we had to light a candle and then observe it with our lab partners and write down everything that we observed....Does every public school child in the world go through that? Do today's students just stare at the image of a burning candle on their cell phones instead? Has it occurred to you that perhaps Mr. Windowson likes your worm-feedings because he is staring at you, and writing down his observations about humans, when he returns to the nest?

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  7. I am truly amazed at Studley D Windowson and at you too, for being so patient and caring and noticing. My heart gets happy every time I read about you and the bird

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  8. I love the look on Dave's face as he gazes on Studley. That there's love fer sure. <3

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    1. I love it too. But truth be told, it's kind of a universal reaction to the Studs.

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  9. You are an inspiration showing what caring for creatures is all about!

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  10. That is a WONDERFUL photo of Dave and of course Studley on his knee! A keeper, for sure!

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    1. And I have so many of them. I'm like a new mom with the First Child.

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  11. Thank you for dropping another pellet of joy in us!

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  12. Oh I love this Story and with a Happy Ending for Studley recovering and outliving his expiration date for his Species.

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    1. The Literature also states they can live to be about eleven. It's just that they're usually picked off before then.

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  13. I did not know hy would be so friendly! I got several here and others. Wish me luck!

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    1. Get mealworms. Keep them in the fridge. Don't confuse them with the sour cream container.

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  14. Studley knows he is loved. That can keep a body going pretty dang long, especially if there's also food, water, shelter, a mate, and other like-minded, well-loved species about.

    Also, Dave's shirt...pieces of pie? Cool beans

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    1. That's Dave's very favorite shirt. It's about thirty years old and he has a face mask to match.

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