I am grieving a crippled chickadee,
whom I last saw on Monday, March 8. Her wings were fluttering that
day, as if she had lost even more mobility in her legs and toes. For
a month, she had been skooching on the deck or railing like a double
amputee in India sitting on cardboard and propelling himself with his
That Monday morning, she was hanging
upside down by her toes. In previous days, I had seen her grip a
branch or wire with both toes and slowly slide backwards until she
was upside down. She would flutter her wings to bring herself back to
upright. She repeated these chin-ups five or ten times. She was
panting; I could see her back wing feathers move up and down two or
three times a second.
That last morning, I put sunflower
seeds in the coffee grinder and ground them finely. She didn't seem
to have the leverage to peck a sunflower seed to bits. Usually a
chickadee holds a sunflower seed between her two feet and pecks and
pecks at it. Chickadee beaks are very small. Other birds swallow
sunflower hearts whole, but the chickadee breaks it into bits and
eats the bits.
Her handicap enabled me to distinguish
one chickadee from the dozen that visit our birdfeeder, distinguish
her from the two or three chickadees that eat out of my hand.
I knew the end was near. I didn't see
her the rest of that day. I kept looking for her all week. Then I had
to admit she was gone. Gone.
The next day the weather was warm. Oh,
if only she could have lived to feel warm weather. Had her feet
frozen one zero degree night? I would never know.
I try to assuage my grief with various
stories. Already she has returned to earth somewhere. Already some
creature has eaten her corpse. Already she has been incorporated into
owl or possum. The life cycle has moved, and I am stuck in missing