As I sip coffee on the deck this frosty Christmas morning, chickadees and nuthatches call at once from every direction. A chickadee lands within my reach, calls chicka-dee-dee-dee, cocks its head when a partner in a spruce returns the call. Calling again, it hops onto the nesting box my daughter and I built and mounted just days ago. It perches in the opening, hops to the deck rail and calls again. Always the calling.
This tiny mouse of a bird survives when many birds don’t make it through winter. Shelter in a tree cavity is not enough. Each morning the birds leave their shelter and spread out to forage, but they must find each other before the sun sets on the short winter days. They call out regularly to maintain contact as they move about the trees. Visual contact is spotty in dense coniferous forests, their usual winter range. By calling the birds can keep within earshot of each other and still forage. And by making occasional visual contact throughout the afternoon, they can quickly assemble into a protective downy huddle for the night.
The chickadees I hear next spring survived the winter’s polar vortex without high tech parka, boots, or gloves. Other species escaped the cold by taking wing across the Gulf of Mexico to Central and South America. As I watch this wee feathered creature peer into my daughter’s nest box, I raise my mug in salute. Nothing ordinary has ever evolved on this little planet.