Wednesday, September 19, 2007

"The Black Capped Chickadee"

Oil on Gessoed paper
7 x 15 inches.

Over the years I've created a large number of paintings and drawings of birds. I created illustrations for and exhibited with organizations like the Massachusetts Audubon Society and the Manomet Bird Observatory on Cape Cod. But one of my favorite birds is the very small Black Capped Chickadee. As well as having a beautiful, memorable song it also has some amazing abilities. I'll try and describe these as best a layman can. I'm sure ornithologists and wildlife biologists could do a better, more detailed job but here it is...

During early Autumn all birds including the Black Capped Chickadee are preparing for Winter by storing seeds for the coming cold weather. However the Chickadee has a very special talent for remembering where it has stored caches of seeds. Most birds can remember hundreds of hiding places, the Chickadee can remember around 1000 places. It does this by growing new brain cells in a cavity in its brain. When the weather starts to get cold it starts growing new cells in an area of it's brain to help remember where all those seed are hidden. Naturally this helps it survive in Winter when food is scarce. In late Winter/early Spring the cells start to dissipate since food will become more plentiful again. This in turn also makes the bird a little bit lighter, allowing it to escape from predators with a bit more ease.

This little powder-puff can also withstand sub zero weather. I once read an account by a birder who was visiting friends in the Great Lakes region during Winter. The temperature had dropped to 40 below and this man wanted to take a walk outside to simply see what it was like outside in temperature that cold. The only other living things he saw on that walk were a small flock of Black Capped Chickadees. They are able to puff up their feathers and create an area of warmth between themselves and cold air. They do this by shivering, they flex their chest muscles repeatedly to generate heat. The warm air is trapped in their feathers. Their feathers rise to create an inch thick barrier between themselves and the deadly cold. Try standing outside in 40 below weather with only an inch thick jacket! Ugh! The Black Capped Chickadee has evolved in an amazing way.

Living in Boston I see Chickadees often. On a few occasions when I've gone birding in forests in New England they are one of the few species of birds that will come relatively close to me on those jaunts. Usually it's a small flock of about 6 to 8 birds that will fly within about 6 feet of me. They seem to have a strong curiosity as to what that large animal below is making noise and staring up at them. They hop around on large branches and even stand upside down on smaller branches to get a better look. As well as having evolved in an amazing way they are extremely entertaining.

If you've read this far thank you, and thank you for visiting my blog.

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