6:52 a.m. 39 degrees, wind N 1 mph. Sky: nearly empty baby blue, a single
rose-colored cloud, spindly, and frayed. Permanent streams: water song from
babble to lull; lower stream, a line of leaves caught in rocks, coiled like
a snake. Intermittent streams: mute but moving. Wetlands: thin ground fog,
a remnant of weekend rain. Pond: mist rises and vanishes; mergansers,
hooded, cut paths across the surface, telegraphing ripples that spread in
every direction. Winter attire, brown and gray, could be males or females,
adults or first-year-birds. Too far to identify. Alder leaves, green and
black, and drying out; still of some interest to chickadees, which work
through the sparse foliage. Yesterday's three elegant leaf-stripes erased
by passing cars; leaves reassembled on the rim of the woods, enmeshed in
Robins in small groups, noisy and active. Across the marsh, unseen, a
pileated laughs, a long, rollicking, hear-splitting salutation to sunrise.
Thrush on the driveway again. I can't coax song, though I try . . .
repeatedly. Dogs sit patiently and wonder what's happened.
Chickadees eating goldenrod seeds, sparrow-like, and insect eggs under a
piece of frayed bark, creeper-like. At home, spider-pluckers along the edge
of the porch ceiling and feeder frequenters, one seed at a time, pounded
open on a nearby cherry limb and eaten or deposited in a tuft of
tree-branch lichen. With a map in their heads, chickadees find what they
hide, up to twenty-eight days later. The *hippocampus*, the region of the
brain associated with spatial memory, is large in black-capped chickadees,
proportionally larger than that of birds that don't store food; and within
their family (*Paridae*), a pert and perky group that includes titmice and
Old World tits, the black-capped (*Poecile atricapillus*) reigns supreme.
Their hippocampus is proportionally larger than related species that cache
On bone-chilling nights, to conserve energy, a black-capped chickadee
lowers its body temperature, goes into a self-induced torpor, a sort of
nocturnal hibernation. And then wakes up latte-fresh, ready to exercise its
brain, ready undercover hidden treasures.
Chickadee: default bird of the Northeast. Black bib and throat, white
cheeks, buffy sides, white belly, and gray back. Is there a more
recognizable, common, personable front yard or wilderness bird?
Indefatigable. Trusting. Captivating. Feeling blue about the Covid-19 and
the dark rubble in its wake, consider a chickadee, one of Earth's most
creative marshalings of stardust. . . . May not suppress the spread of the
Coronavirus, chickadees may help you to forget about it for a moment.