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I’ve been up there before and just held out my hand with nothing in it and they still will come up and sit on your fingers,” Wolff said. “This is not normal wildlife behavior. But because they are so used to people coming up and feeding them, it has become normalized to them.”
There’s also the problem of people feeding them bad food, say crumbs from a half-eaten Clif bar in your pocket.
“Things like bread from sandwiches and crumbs from chips have been offered,” Wolff said. “While these are great foods for us, they are not what mountain chickadees need. Mountain chickadees primarily eat insects and seeds!” Panda 3D All Over Print Hoodie
Mountain chickadees are remarkable creatures. You’ve probably heard them. Their call is unmistakable in its clarity, and yet I often mistake the birds for calling out the word “cheeseburger.” That’s why I usually call them the “cheeseburger bird.” This is also what I love about them most.
Mountain chickadees are a nonmigratory species, so they live in harsh climates, like atop Mount Rose, all year long. To survive brutal winters at 9,000 feet, the birds cache food they found in the late summer and fall. A group of wildlife researchers at the University of Nevada Reno has been studying them for years to learn more about how mountain chickadees can remember all of the places they stored food days, weeks or months ago. The researchers found that mountain chickadees have huge reserves of food, stashing hundreds of thousands of seeds in individual locations.
The moral of the story is that they don’t need humans to feed them.
“They’re highly, highly intelligent and adaptable birds,” Richardson said. “Super smart. In fact, most of the seeds that they take from your hands, the first thing they do is they grab one, they fly off and they stash it behind a piece of bark.”
Richardson didn’t have a clear answer for me when I asked him what the right thing to do is at Chickadee Ridge. Kind of like the color of the chickadees, the problem isn’t black or white, but a shade of gray.
“We don’t condone it. We don’t condemn it. We understand and we do think there’s an opportunity for a rich wildlife interaction that can inspire and motivate stewardship, for birds and their natural resources,” he said.
Referring to Leave No Trace principles, Richardson repeated the ethos that we should avoid feeding wildlife and also keep our distance. At the same time, Richardson’s Tahoe Institute for Natural Sciences hosts nature camps where scientists take a group of kids into the outdoors for a hands-on science lesson.
“We have bug camps and we do all kinds of stuff,” Richardson said. “We’re a little more hands-on. We catch bugs. We pick up snakes and frogs. For us, we’re trying to strike a balance between those educational opportunities and engagement with nature that we think can be very inspiring and motivating in terms of further stewardship. We think it can be done in a responsible way. But as far as Chickadee Ridge, itself? It’s tough. There’s no question that it’s affecting those birds’ patterns and behaviors.”
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