For the Birds Radio Program: Chickadee Day 2022: The Best of Times
The blog post, with photos, that corresponds to this program had to be revised quite a bit to break it into two podcast episodes. You can see it here. What follows is a more accurate transcript.
Even though I heard and saw plenty of chickadees this year on March 2, which I celebrate as Chickadee Day, everything else seemed to be going wrong. An owl had killed one of the rabbits that visit my yard every night. Some sort of raptor chased off my favorite Pileated Woodpecker. And I drove most of the way up to Ely and back without seeing a Spruce Grouse, or even a Ruffed Grouse.
But then a little after 4 in the afternoon, things made a sudden turnaround. I’d spent the afternoon babysitting my grandson, and the moment I got home, while I was still taking my coat off, I got a text message from a dear friend of mine, Sarah Glesner, who was right that moment looking at a Chukar at her parents’ place a half mile away.
Chukars are Old World grouse—the national bird of both Iraq and Pakistan. They are beautiful birds belonging to the same family as pheasants and grouse, and so have been introduced as game birds in many countries. In the United States, state departments of natural resources have introduced them many times over the years, including in Minnesota and Wisconsin, but Chukars have become established only locally here and there in the West. They’re easy to raise in captivity, so are often found in private aviaries. They’re also a popular quarry for canned hunts at game farms catering to unsportsmanlike shooters, and are also kept by retriever clubs for training and competitions.
Last summer, a group of Chukars were hanging out in Sarah’s parents’ part of the neighborhood after apparently staging a great escape. I got photos of one of them on July 13.
By then, the original flock had dwindled as, one by one, birds disappeared. That area is close to where the neighborhood Great Horned Owls usually hang out, and our neighborhood has plenty of foxes as well as being located right under Hawk Ridge. I hadn’t heard anything more about the Chukars by early fall, so I assumed the whole flock had died out, but Sarah said this one individual has been showing up at her parents’ feeder most afternoons all winter.
I was at their door a few minutes after getting her message. I thought I’d have to do a bit of work to find a good spot with an angle where I could take good pictures without scaring off the bird, but nope. It was nonchalantly walking up her front sidewalk to her porch as I arrived, while Sarah was standing on the porch. It sauntered up the steps like it lived there, and stayed right there on the porch where Sarah and I both were, both of us talking and me snapping photo after photo for ten full minutes. I took about 350 photos of which 270 turned out, as Sarah took a few of me, before the Chukar jumped down and wandered somewhere in the back yard. .
This bird can fly—Sarah has seen it up on rooftops—but there’s no pretending any of my photos were taken in a wild setting. That’s okay—even if I prefer taking pictures of birds in my trees rather than in my feeders, I am not into misleading people about birds or pretending I’m some rugged wildlife photographer when I’m really just a birdwatcher who takes a lot of pictures. And there’s no pretending this little beauty belongs anywhere near Duluth. It may not be countable on any birding lists, but it’s as wild as an escapee from domestication can be, and it made a lovely and serendipitous end to what had been an otherwise mostly dispiriting Chickadee Day.