Black-capped chickadee vs. Dark-eyed junco: I’ll take the underbird, with the pretty underbelly

Scout first visited my deck on an unseasonably warm Thanksgiving Day 2011.

Day 1 of March Migration Madness, and there’s tension in the air. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has pitted last year’s champ, the beloved black-capped chickadee, against the low-seeded dark-eyed junco, a phantom bird of winter.

C’mon, peeps. “Migration”! It’s in the game’s title! Have you all been conned by the charming chickadee, who is brave and smart enough to light on your heads or feed from your hand? Close encounters with curious chickadees, though wondrous, are a dime a dozen … plus, can you be so sure that the “black-capped” chickadee you so admire isn’t a genuine impostor from down South, say, Carolina? Like twin cousins of “The Patty Duke Show,” they will charm and con you.

That bird you swoon over is not always what you think. And blink, he’s gone, and yet … always there. A commoner, a year-round, non-migratory bird.

The dark-eyed junco is just as brave, if understated, and needs courage for his long journey ahead, back to wherever he goes off-season. When I first encountered this jewel last Thanksgiving Day, a lone scout junco poked his blushing-pink, pearl beak right up to my back door and sunned himself on the deck, a true blessing. First describing the species as a chocolate-coconut macaroon, with more familiarity I’ve begun to think of them as quarter-moon birds, or sparrows dressed for a masquerade ball. He will always surprise you; when you’re looking for something else, he hops into view. I’ll take the underbird, with the pretty white underside and the tux-like “tails,” any day. Especially TODAY.

The C/BC chickadee, or whatever it is, has had its day in the sun. Knock him off his perch (oh, he’ll be back) and give a bottom-feeder a taste — just a nibble — of the limelight.

Get in on all the action at Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Facebook page. And to vote on today’s matchup, peep here. At the time of this writing, chickadee had the home-cooked advantage, 509-236.