Hike to Feed the Chickadees

By Sue Freeman

Many birds migrate south when winter blows its chill across the Rochester area. But, a few hardy species stick around and become frequent visitors to our backyard bird feeders. One of these is the Black-capped Chickadee – a small, active bird with a black cap, white cheeks, and a black bib.

A flock of these inquisitive year-round residents now dwells in Mendon Ponds Park where they’ve become accustomed to getting hand outs from hikers. “Accustomed” may be a term that’s too mild – these chickadees demand food! Hike the trails near Quaker Pond in the southern section of Mendon Ponds Park and these pretty little birds will swoop down, almost in dive-bombing mode, looking for a meal. Stop along the trail and they may even land on your head, especially if it’s capped. Best of all, place some sunflower seeds in your hand, then stretch it out with the palm facing toward the sky and before long a chickadee will land on your hand to grab his prize.

Children giggle from the tickling sensation as the tiny bird feet light on their skin. Feeding chickadees is an activity that’s fun for all ages. The biggest challenge is not to flinch as the bird lights, and scare it away.

The best time to go is in winter when the chickadees’ food supply is limited. Sunflower seeds are their favorite food. Think of it as a Powerbar for birds. As you hike, listen for "chick-a-dee-dee-dee," their distinguishing call. It’s one of the most complex vocalizations in the animal kingdom. Depending on slight variations in the phrases, the call can act as a contact call or as an alarm call. Chickadees also use their call to relay information about an individual's identity or to indicate that they recognize a particular flock. I think there’s even a variation that means, “here comes a hiker – chows on!”

The Grasslands Trail in the southern end of Mendon Ponds Park is in a lesser-used area of undulating glacial hills covered in grasses – or snow in winter. Several long and short loops are available for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. Or, circumnavigate Quaker Pond on the 2.5-mile Quaker Pond Trail. For a short, easy walk, follow the 1.1-mile looped Birdsong Trail. Chickadees lay in wait in the entire region. Maps and trail descriptions are available in the guidebook “Take A Hike – Family Walks in the Rochester Area,” available at www.footprintpress.com or call 1-800-431-1579.

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