Before I ever knew what a Black-capped Chickadee was, I bought a darling artisan Chickadee bird house created with a bit of whimsy evocative of Hobbits. I hung it out in April figuring birds build their nests in spring. No takers that season. Disappointingly, no takers for several seasons after that. I couldn’t understand it because there certainly had to be birds competing for nesting sites in the neighborhood. So I put the box on a shelf in the garage reasoning that it was just a decorative bird house that wild birds would nest in only in my wildest dreams and in the mind’s eye of the crafter who designed and built it. It had darling little twigs glued beneath the opening as a perch and a bit of a rustic, crooked look. If I were a little bird, I would want to live in that house. But, I’m not a bird, so what did I know?
Some seasons later, as I became more seriously interested in birds and could actually identify Chickadees by sight and sound, I learned one very basic rule that made total sense and worked like a charm to attract them to nest in that cute little box. I had an “Aha!” moment, I guess you could say. In my case it turned out to be such a simple reason the birds passed me by. I hung the nest box out too late in the year!
Although, Valentine’s Day is the trigger reminding me to hang out the birdhouse and “Vacancy” sign, the reason I associate the holiday with my favorite Black-capped Chickadee has more to do with its courtship behavior and lifecycle than the abundance of romance in my soul.
Mid to late winter is the time of year the male and female of the species begin to pair up and start shopping for an apartment to lease for the coming spring nesting activities. By April they’re measuring the windows for curtains. Before May is finished there are eggs in the nursery! Waiting until April to hang out my box made it unavailable at peak winter nest site selection time! Did I meet with success once I learned that simple rule of Chickadee courtship behavior? Yes! Yes! Yes! Much to my glee!
Having discovered that timing is everything, as the saying goes, one Valentine’s Day I trudged out to the back yard tree in deep snow to hang the birdhouse that had collected a few seasons’ worth of dust in the garage. Then, magically, as I reached the door and looked back over my shoulder at the just-installed bird nest box, there was a Chickadee pair already checking it out! Unbelievable! Talk about exciting! Would there actually be a nest and successful fledging from that box? Yes, there was!
The following June the pair brought their young to my bird feeder teaching them how to bathe by flying through the mist and frolicking in the bushes as I watered them with the garden hose. It was as if they brought the kids over to introduce them to me and thank me for the nice house.
Since then, the old worn Chickadee house has been replaced by a much more practical design easier for monitoring and cleaning. The birds love it and joyfully build their nests of fresh moss as I watch their comings and goings through binoculars from a distance.
So, Happy Valentine’s Day to my little Chickadees. And, Happy Valentine’s Day to you, too!