There is a birding tradition that the first bird you see on New Year’s Day is your theme bird for the year. A chirp outside my bedroom window woke me up; I turned my head to look – perched boldly and confidently on the topmost branch of the lilac tree was a black-capped chickadee. My favorite little songbird! 

I delved into just what my year ahead has in store if I listen to the chickadee’s song.

“May my heart always be open to little 

birds who are the secrets of living

whatever they sing is better than to know

and if men should not hear them men are old ”

–E.E. Cummings

Cheerfulness & Serenity – Chickadee is thought to be a harbinger of spring. Its cheerful mating song is thought by many to be the first true song of spring; bringing contentment, simple joy and happiness. Hearing the spring song of the chickadee certainly makes me smile and take a deep, contented breath of warm spring air.

Bravery – Although the chickadee is a ‘wee’ bird, it certainly doesn’t know it! It will fearlessly take on larger birds if it feels threatened. My garden chickadees will brazenly sit only feet away loudly scolding me for taking too long to fill the empty bird feeders. A few of them will even dive-bomb me as I hurriedly complete my task!

Being Social – Chickadees travel in small groups (known as a “banditry!”), foraging together, reducing an individuals chance of being preyed upon. Their cheerful communications help the greater good showing that a cooperative team means a safe and successful community. I witnessed this behavior that very day on our annual New Year’s Day birding walk. We stood still, watching the members of the banditry swirl around us, foraging on false turkey tail on a nearby tree, contentedly chirping all was well.

Curiousity – Chickadee coming into your life means that just like this cheery, tiny bird, you remain curious about everything you come in contact with, even if you’ve seen it many times before. It means that you will think ‘big’ and act upon those ideas. I had a chuckle over this one; chickadees always check me out when I am walking in the woods. 

Truthful Expression and Knowledge – The Cherokee perceived the Chickadee as the bird of truth, helping to pinpoint truth and knowledge. Native American traditions associate chickadee with being able to force the future and for always conveying truth. According to those traditions, Eagle gifted Chickadee with its prophetic ability. The legend says that Thunder, the sky ruler and Eagle were great friends. Thunder appointed Eagle to bestow special powers upon those requesting them. Chickadee requested to be like a fortune teller among the people and that he would become a bringer of good news. 

Learn more of this story here.

Birds with caps are of great significance; anything associated with the head is linked to higher perceptions and is linked to the thinking process. The color black is associated with mystery and the feminine. The black-capped chickadee therefore can help with uncovering the mysteries of the mind and seeking inner truths. Chickadee teaches us to face this inner reflection with its trademark cheerful bravery. 

Because Chickadee is a sign of spring, its significance is that ideas & dreams will blossom and succeed just like the promise of springtime flowers.

Wow, all of this in one tiny little dully-colored bird! But the Universe does act in strange ways. I have the usual gang of winter birds around my feeders and I could have seen any of them as my first bird – my second bird was a gorgeously bright male bluebird perched on the porch bannister, waiting his turn at the mealworm feeder – but the black-capped chickadee outside my window was definitively there just for me. 

eastern bluebird, casein, panel, winter, Kelly Leahy Radding

In 2021 I was approached by Laing F. Rikkers about creating artwork for the book she had written. As soon as I read her manuscript, I was all in. In essence, I joined a community of two, in contrast with the normally solo nature of creating my art. I contentedly spent half of 2021 and most of 2022 creating approximately 90 paintings; diving very deeply into my own inner feelings to Laing’s words and thoughts. The paintings are very personal; almost all reflect places, creatures and plants that I have encountered in all my years of spending time out in Nature, both in my travels and right in my own backyard gardens. 

I feel that the paintings are infused with an essence that is a more truthful, inner connection to the same life-force emanating from Laing’s beautiful poems. Where I think Chickadee fits into all of this, as my bird of 2023, is that it represents our book, Morning Leaves; a Reflection on Loss, Grief and Connection, that is currently being printed and will be available in May 2023 – the season of Spring with its promise of blossoming and rebirth. 


I’m ready for it.