Condition similar to chickadeeitis

Published 9:11 am Saturday, November 27, 2010

Al Batt, Nature’s World

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

Al Batt

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“Everything is nearly copacetic. I’ve had a mouse invasion in my shack so I went to Saint Menard’s Hardware for help. The Saint sold me an ultrasonic device that makes a sound I can’t hear but is supposed to repel mice. The Saint told me that it works on everything from mice to elephants. I’ve used it for a month.”

“How’s it working?” I wonder aloud.

“I haven’t had a single elephant in the house. The mice didn’t get the memo. They’ve increased in number. That should be enough torture for a man like me, but I had to take my snowmobile suit to the dry cleaners. Bump Whistlebritches was working. I gave him my suit and he punched my information into a thingamajig, doohickey, thingy, thingamabob, whatsit, or whatchamacallit, and gave me a receipt that showed it’d be ready in 24 hours or no charge. I stopped back the next day and Bump told me it wouldn’t be ready for another day. I squawked about their 24-hour service.”

“Sounds like a justifiable gripe,” I say. “What did Bump tell you?”

“He said, ‘We do have 24-hour service, but we work only eight hours a day. That’s eight hours yesterday, eight hours today, and eight hours tomorrow.’”


I spotted a chestnut-backed chickadee in Juneau, Alaska. It looked like a black-capped chickadee with a sooty-brown cap instead of a black one, and with a chestnut-colored back, shoulders, and sides. I pulled my camera from its case and took a photo of the lovely bird. A cord fell unnoticed from my bag. I get excited about seeing chickadees. There should be a name for my condition — something like chickadeeitis. I wasn’t aware of the missing cord until that night when I returned to my room and bath. Darkness had fallen with a thud when I grabbed my trusty flashlight (a welcome traveling partner) and hiked far back to the spot where I had enjoyed the company of the chickadee. I found the lost cord and returned to my room and bath with pleasant thoughts. I’d definitely been chickadeed.

Things are looking up for looking down

Chestnut-backed chickadee by Al Batt.

I was waiting for someone to pick me up at the ferry terminal in Haines, Alaska. I was looking up at the antics of magpies and ravens. A van parked near me, a man stepped out, and picked up a $20 bill he had stepped upon. I need to look down occasionally.

From the backyard

Cindy Tracy of Norwood, Mass., told me that she saw a Cooper’s hawk take a chipmunk in her yard. Chipmunks are cute, but Cindy had found them occasionally irritating. Even so, she found herself heartbroken at the death of the small mammal. She had thoughts of Alvin, Simon, Theodore, Chip and Dale. Into a world of wonders, another wonder had come and gone. It left Cindy in tears.

Q and A

“Does a duck’s quack echo?” Yes.

“Do geese poop in flight?” They do, but they are less likely to defecate while flying than when they are grazing or walking on the ground.

“Do blue jays remember where they’ve hidden peanuts?” Some folks are constantly looking for car keys, cell phones or remotes. Even the best of human memories cannot always recall where something was placed. A blue jay has a throat pouch that allows it to cache food. A jay wolfs down peanuts or sunflower seeds and flies to a secure spot where it caches them into a good hiding place like a tree cavity or a hollow log to eat later. One study found that jays bury seeds up to 2.5 miles from the original source. Blue jays feed on acorns and bury the nuts for safekeeping. This dispersal of acorns results in many new oak trees. A jay was observed selecting and caching 3,000 acorns over a period of 28 days. About 30 percent of the acorns were retrieved. Sometimes a squirrel sees a jay burying seeds and swipes the larder. A jay will do the same to a squirrel’s cache. Blue jays remember the locations where food is hidden for several weeks

A number of bird species cache foods. Chickadees and nuthatches fill their throat pouches with seeds, fly away and hide them in bark crevices, in the ground, or under stones or logs. Crows are talented at storing food. Russell Balda’s research at Northern Arizona University showed that birds remember caching locations by noting the positions of plants, stones and other landmarks. If the landmarks are shifted, the birds err by searching the correct locations according to the position of the landmarks.

“I read Lessons From Geese. It said, ‘When a goose gets sick, wounded or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again. Then they launch out with another formation or catch up with the flock.’ Is this true?” I’ve talked to a number of goose hunters and none could verify this happening.

“What do coots eat?” Coots are opportunistic feeders, eating mostly plant material but also feeding on small fish, tadpoles, snails, worms and insects. The American coot swims like a duck, but it does not have webbed feet. A coot’s toes have lobes on the sides. A coot is kleptoparasitic, meaning that it will steal a meal from other birds. It got the “mudhen” nickname because of the way it bobs its head when it walks or swims.

Nature lessons

Peter Adler, an entomologist at Clemson University said that parts of Alaska have as many as 12 million mosquitoes per square mile.

The golden eagle is the national bird of Albania, Austria, Germany, Kazakhstan and Mexico.

Looking at a bird makes the world a better place. If you look at a bird — I mean, really look at one — you begin to notice where certain species are found and where they aren’t. You begin to pay attention to habitat. You become concerned about habitat loss for the bird you enjoy seeing. You will make efforts to preserve good things.

Thanks for stopping by

“Laughter is an instant vacation.” — Milton Berle.

“Lie down and listen to the crabgrass grow.” — Marya Mannes.


Al Batt of Hartland is a member of the Albert Lea Audubon Society. E-mail him at