This is a repost from my short piece for a recent edition of the
One warm winter afternoon each February, an enthusiastic chickadee reminds us of a bygone Vermont. Its “feeee-beee” song is a delightful protest against months of austere soundscapes. Like a perfect brushstroke on an empty canvas, the song’s beauty is its simple counterpoint to the wind in the treetops, the distant rush-hour traffic, or the crimping of footsteps in the snow. After months of slush, snow, and sticks, many of us have only the foggiest recollections of why we call this place the Green Mountain State. But the chickadee, ever the optimist, sings to remind us that the seasons will change soon enough—and it’s about time to clear the throat.
That change came all at once last Saturday. Practically overnight, our soloist was joined by an orchestra of neotropical voices. A cloud of song sparrows, eastern phoebes, and early pine and palm warblers fell from a passing cold front into the city’s treetops. These advance spring migrants now scarf up early insect hatches and position themselves to defend empty real estate in every cranny of Burlington’s open space.
This time of year, Ethan Allen Tower becomes an air traffic control center. Visitors of the tower are buzzed by turkey vultures and tree swallows, just in from Florida and Mexico. Warblers and vireos from the West Indies leap-frog through the canopy at eye-level with the tower’s crenelations. In a couple weeks, flights will be landing from Brazil and Patagonia. The international diversity in Burlington’s human population has got nothing on that of Queen City birds.
Our gritty chickadee earns his Burlington summer by surviving five months of cold unpleasantries, often cooped up in the hollow of some old maple tree. Yet as he is rewarded with the first lungful of fresh warm air and spring sun, he suddenly finds himself up to his wings in strangers from across the hemisphere. As yellow warblers arrive from Florida to size up our resident chickadee, I’m reminded of my Californian aunt’s midwinter advice to my father: “You don’t have to live like this, David!”
On those beautiful June days at the waterfront, I can certainly relate to our chickadee’s lack of elbow-room. But I begin to understand why those chickadees don’t consider migrating. What better testament is there to a place’s greatness than being the seasonal destination for millions of friends from around the world? As our city comes alive this season, we and the chickadees are privileged to say “Welcome to Burlington!”