Two Black-capped Chickadee families have been entertaining us since the young fledged about ten days ago. When they were just out of the nest, they would follow the adults to the tree by the bird feeder and sit there and beg while the parents flew to the feeder, picked up a sunflower seed, returned to the chick, and stuffed the seed in the chick’s mouth. This went on for much longer than you would think it would take for a chick to learn to feed itself, but it was entertaining to watch. For variation, occasionally the same thing would happen at the suet feeder, only this was even funnier, because the young birds would be sitting inches away while the parent moved small mouthfuls of food from feeder to chick. Eventually, after days, the young became more independent and were feeding themselves at the feeders, although they are still closely following the adults.
On Sunday I was taking a break from yard work and sitting on the deck when a new lesson began. The weather was gorgeous; the sun was out, it was in the mid-70s, and apparently the chickadees decided it was time for a bath. An adult was in the bird bath going to town, really making the water splash. A fledgling was on the rim of the bath watching closely, and then it, too, made all the appropriate bathing motions – feathers loosened a bit away from the body, up-and-down dipping posture, wings rapidly flipping up and down over the back – but it was still standing on the rim. The adult finished up and flew into the nearby tree to preen. The young bird hopped out onto a rock in the middle of the bath and went through all the motions again. Still not touching the water. Then it followed the adult to a tree branch a few feet away.
Now, I am not sure it was the same adult, but the same young bird followed an adult down to the bath moments later and they went through a similar series of bathing and almost-bathing movements. It looked quite enjoyable. But junior still wasn’t getting the full experience. This time, after a couple of dry runs on the rim, the fledgling hopped briefly onto a rock that was just barely submersed in the water. But it leaped immediately back onto the rim with a sort of surprised, “Yikes, that’s wet!” movement. You could almost see the thoughts in its head: Well, maybe yikes, but in a good way, not a bad way, so…it hopped straight into the deep part (all of an inch), right up to its wings. It stood there for a couple of seconds and then connected both parts of the lesson and splashed water about like a big kid. Yahoo! First bath!
There was one more lesson – surprise! As the young bird flew laboriously back up to the tree, it learned just how hard it is to fly when wet.
Photo by Nancy Castillo at The Zen Birdfeeder