The more I know, the less I know.

That’s the way it’s supposed to work. If you have a question that doesn’t lead to way more questions, you’re not doing it right.
Take this whole subject of birds. I don’t feel like I know much about them, even though the average citizen knows even less. I’ve accumulated some knowledge. But even the birds I know on a personal level, the ones I’ve observed closely and avidly, are mysterious.

So I don’t know what’s been going on with Studley Windowson this year. But it hasn’t been a normal year. Just as I think I’ve got him all figured out, he changes it up. Since I started keeping records a few years back, I’ve discovered he and Marge start flirting, building the mattress, and sending baby Windowsons down the production line on pretty much the exact same days each year, or they don’t miss by much. And whatever I don’t observe directly (their front door is inches from my window) I can intuit by the interest level Studley shows in mealworms. That is one fine hard-working bird and provider, and although he will happily consume three or so mealworms himself at a time all fall and winter, there comes a day he flies off with them instead, and that’s when you know wooing has begun. The mealworm intake ramps up when Marge is on the nest and he brings her lunch. And when the little Windowson goobers poink out of their shells, he grabs a ride on the Mealworm Express. He’s zippeting back and forth all day long from wherever we are to the nest, and even later on he waits to grab three at a whack before he takes off. He looks like a dang puffin, fully herringed.

2011, possibly young Studley

This year, though, I was confused. Seemed like things were going along fine, but he wasn’t taking as many mealworms, and at least once I saw him take over twenty of them and stash them in a crape myrtle. Every time I thought he was on schedule, there’d be a pause.

When I trimmed Dave’s hair and beard, I hung up a bag of it near the nest box. And although I thought I heard Marge hammering the mattress together at about the right time, I didn’t see a lot of activity. Just as I decided they were nesting somewhere else, I’d see one or the other of them pop in and out again. Seemed like the thing was happening, but the day the babies should have pecked themselves out of their shells and started squeaking came and went.
Later I watched Studley go into the house empty-beaked and come out with a soggy worm. I saw that a few times. But well past when there should have been little Windowsons. It was almost as though he was using the nest box as a pantry.
2018, first year with bum foot

He was hanging out in the hibiscus with a younger model, but I think that was a kid from last year. The younger model is very interested in this mealworm thing, having observed Studley score plenty, but every time he got a little closer and looked like he might give it a whirl, Studley ran him off.

And he’d still come by for his own personal worms. Not every day, but pretty often. He looked skinny. He always looks like shit this time of year what with the molt and all, and skinny because he’s worked his little wingies to the bone. But I finally concluded he did not have a family this year.
On August first, after a few days’ absence, he stopped by the back porch for a few worms. Something made me note the date, which I’d never done before. Something was off. He came by August 2nd. And August 3rd. He hasn’t been by since.

Most chickadees don’t die of old age, they say. They can max out somewhere around eleven, but most make it only two or three years. Something gets them. I’ve seen how cautious Studley can be. He is constantly looking around. Hides from hawks. Hides from us, if he sees Tater Cat in our window. And he’s got experience. Something nipped off part of his foot. Something took out his tail, last winter, although it grew back. It shows he’s either good at this survival business, or just the opposite. One of the things I don’t know.

And I don’t know how old he is. I was checking back, and chickadees have been renting out the nest box every year since we put it up in 2011. I couldn’t tell one from another until the year he hurt his foot. Which makes him at least four, and possibly eleven.

A few days ago, I took down the nest box. Didn’t know what I’d find. And what I found was a complete new grass mattress, untrampled, with Dave’s beard woven in, and with twelve unhatched eggs. Doesn’t seem likely Studley was shooting blanks after all this time. Maybe his sweet Marge met an untimely end. I don’t know if a chickadee can die of a broken heart.

I know I can’t. I’m still here.