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 her.