A journey into the eyes and mind of a naturalist.

Death of a Chickadee

With spring comes rebirth and revitalization.  Spring is also a time of death.  All the new life requires energy.  For many animals that energy comes from the young and vulnerable.  Every year I welcome spring by watching the chickadees and other birds begin building their nests.  I have several nest boxes around my property that have yielded dozens of broods of wrens, chickadees, and bluebirds. See my post documenting a brood of chickadees here.  

This year the chickadees built their nest of hair, lichens and moss in a nest box I inherited from my grandparents.  I watched as they diligently shuttled all the nest materials into the box.  We would periodically lift the top of the box to check on the progress of the nest.  Sometimes the female would allow the minor disturbance and would not leave her incubation of 7 tiny eggs.

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All was going well until I noticed some clumps of lichen and hair outside the nest box.  My heart sank and I knew this was not good.  Opening the box I found the nest in disarray.  The eggs had been moved but were still intact.  The female was no were to be found.

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The hole to enter the nest box had evidence of recent scratching and nest material being removed.

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Directly below the nest box I found the evidence I was hoping not to find.  Evidence of predation, the right wing of a chickadee. The feathers were mangled and disheveled hallmarks of a bird predated by a salivating mammal, most likely a raccoon.  Smaller body feather littered the grass around the wing.

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All hope for the survival of the eggs had been lost.  Seven little chickadees that will never see the sun or herald in the spring with their phee-bee call.  Their mother plucked from the nest as she warmed them on a cold spring night to meet her fate in the belly of a raccoon.

When explaining this to my 5-year-old daughter it was difficult for her to process.  I could tell she wanted to be angry at the raccoon and mourned the loss of “our” chickadees.  But without the sacrifice of the chickadees, the raccoon could not feed their own young.  The raccoon knows not of right and wrong only of survival and the next opportunity for food.

Out of curiosity, I removed one of the eggs from the failed nest.

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I carefully removed the eggshell to reveal the fully formed chickadee embryo inside, probably just days from hatching. The tiny feet curled up into the fetal position

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The somber emotion of this picture defines the dichotomy of spring.  It is a time of rebirth through death.  This cycle is essential for the survival of all species. Without death, there cannot be life.

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