The pictures speak for themselves: It’s a snowy day, and the tiny birds alight in the palm of your open hand to to pick out a sunflower seed before just as quickly fluttering off to eat it.
At the Brecksville Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks, chickadee feeding in the winter months dates to the 1940s, when naturalist A.B. Williams began to feed the birds. Inside the nature center there’s an old black-and-white photo of Mr. Williams, nattily dressed in his fedora and tie, his hand outstretched as a black-capped chickadee perches there.
Seventy years later, the birds in those woods know the custom. Dozens of them gather in the trees around the feeders at one end of the shelter—chickadees, woodpeckers, and some other birds that don’t skip town for the Cleveland winter. They know the drill. When we were there, as many as a dozen people at once stood in a little arc around a split rail fence, their hands reaching out, offering food.
The feel of a little bird’s feet perched on your finger tips, suddenly, twitch twitch, and gone—is a little like fishing for perch. You wait. You wait. You concentrate on standing still. You try to think like the birds. You look into their eyes, and when they get close you can tell when they’re thinking about the seeds in your hand.
They flick their wings and land there, peck a seed, hop, twitch, and then the bird is gone, and once again you’re waiting for the next.
The chickadees are dusty shades of grey, white, and black, with beige beneath their wings. They’re quick and beady-eyed. You’d be justified on a cold winter day to put a glove on your hand, and the birds don’t seem to care if you have a glove or not. But I’d recommend going with your bare skin, the better to feel the little bird feet, the shuffle of their weight, the gentle peck of their beaks as they snatch a seed.
It feels lucky every time.
A Naturalist in Brecksville says they prepare for the chickadee feeding season about a month ahead of time by putting a dummy naturalist out among the trees with a wooden bowl of an outstretched palm there full of seeds, just to introduce the idea of a human shaped feeder standing there. Some of the other Metroparks reservations have begun feeding programs in recent years, she says, and she’s tried it herself at home. But nowhere she knows is it so magically successful as in the Brecksville reservation.
You should try this, and bring your kids. It’s 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays and Sundays, through January. Here’s the info.