Sometimes my mom would snatch me by the arm as I was barreling past to go outside, and say “Hold on. You look like nobody loves you.” Then she’d scrub my face with a washcloth and punt me out the door. It made me all squinchy and I thought it was uncalled-for but I did absorb the fact that she cared. Dave says his mom did the same thing, only she’d pull a Kleenex out of her sleeve and spit on it, for extra love.

The thing is, when you love someone and feel some responsibility for them, you do pay attention to how they look–whether they’re healthy, or presentable. And that is why I have been acutely aware of every feather on my personal chickadee Studley Windowson. As Yogi Berra might have said, you can observe a lot just by looking. And Studley lets me have a real close look, several times a week.
I’ve learned so much. But I’m not breaking any new ground. Other people are already on it. My friend Julie Zickefoose, the queen of noticing, l’arned me something new just the other day. I had observed that my chickadees take one seed from the feeder and go off to a branch to work it over, and that the goldfinches didn’t, but I didn’t know why. Turns out goldfinches aren’t able to hold a seed in their feeties like the chickadees. Now, I’m not sure that puts the chickadees at an advantage. There they are chipping away at the solitary sunflower heart under their toes like someone cutting up a steak for a child, while meanwhile the finches go all Labrador-Retriever on their food, parking their fannies on a perch and hoovering seeds with their faces like nobody’s business. But evidently everyone gets what they need.

Let me get you up to date on Mr. Windowson, though. He went through his complete feather molt last summer and looked like holy hell for a while before coming up crisp in his new winter suit. What should have been obvious to me–but wasn’t–was that his perfect little black bib was not something that overlaid his white shirt. Most of his bib feathers are black, for sure, but the feathers making up the hem of the bib are bi-colored, black with white edges. Of course, I said to myself when I noticed the bi-colored feathers working their way out during the molt. Duh! And yet, like every new niblet of information, it dropped a pellet of joy in me, and those things add up.

But then last November, a shocking thing happened. Studley showed up for his snack and he had completely lost his tail. And I do not know any way that could have happened except that something pulled it out. Maybe a hawk, maybe a damn cat. I was horrified. I looked up cat traps for a half hour before realizing I’d probably end up trapping a possum, and I couldn’t do it anyway; then I looked up missing tail feathers. If Studley’s tail had been pulled out follicles and all, it wouldn’t grow back. But if it had been snapped off (or bitten), and his diet was good, he might replace his feathers before the next summer molt.
I have five billion chilly mealworms in the fridge. I got yer diet right here, Studdles.
It grew back!

But I wasn’t done learning. Studley takes as many worms as you care to give him when he’s feeding his young’uns. But for the rest of the year, he takes four or five, just enough to maintain his ping pong ballish figure.

Until last week, when I met him on the front porch and fed him a worm, and another worm, and another, and…he took twenty-two worms. I’m not even sure that’s good for a fellow. But finally I watched him more closely. He wasn’t eating them. He was poking them in the little mossy bits in the tree. I knew they cached seeds, but live larvae? Hope they’re still there when he comes back for them. Maybe he was throwing a party. There was one going on in my heart, for sure.
May we now pause to celebrate the coolest bird in the tri-county area?
The average lifespan for a wild black-capped chickadee is under two years. Predation is the primary problem. I don’t know how old Studley is. That is because although I may have told you Marge and Studley Windowson have raised kids in our nest box for at least ten years, I really don’t know they’re the same birds every time. They’s mighty sim’lar. But I do know when I first noticed Studley, because he showed up with the bum foot, and it wasn’t a birth defect, but an injury. He kept it balled up in his belly fluff that whole summer of 2018, when he had to have been at least one, and returned the next year with functional but abbreviated toes. Studley D. D. D. Windowson is about to turn four, y’all. At least.