NORTH BERWICK — Jean Stover laughs when asked if she’s a birder. She doesn’t go on birding walks, doesn’t keep a life list and doesn’t post sightings on birding websites.

But once a week when Stover goes out on her 4-acre woodlot to fill the bird feeders, she takes a handful of seeds and holds it out for the chickadees.

Then, Jean Stover looks like a veritable Dr. Dolittle.

With as many as eight black-capped chickadees flitting around her head, Stover watches two to three come eat out of her hand. Sometimes they land and cling to her fingers. Sometimes they flutter in front of her, as if in greeting.

A chickadee prepares to land on the hand of Jean Stover of North Berwick to take a piece of bird seed. Feeding birds take a lot of patience, according to Jeannette Lovitch, co-owner of the Freeport Wild Bird Supply. “Chickadees are inquisitive by nature and also opportunists,” said Lovitch. “Someone’s hand isn’t really much different than other feeders in the yard.” Staff photo by Gabe Souza

“They’re friendly,” said Stover, 64, while feeding the birds on Monday. “The first time I did it, I stood for a long time to see would they come in. I’m pretty patient. Once it happened, it was the coolest thing.”

Hand-feeding birds is often attempted, but rarely a success, said Maine Audubon Naturalist Doug Hitchcox.

“It takes a lot of patience and time to get them accustomed,” said Jeannette Lovitch, co-owner of the Freeport Wild Bird Supply. “Chickadees are inquisitive by nature and also opportunists. Someone’s hand isn’t really much different than other feeders in the yard, so I don’t believe there is anything detrimental about the activity. And it can be a fun way to interact with nature.”

Stover has been feeding chickadees by hand for five years. She even recognizes some by unique markings. If the birds make the chick-a-dee-dee-dee call for too long, she knows they feel threatened.

But on this day, they spun and raced around her in silence. Then after she left, other birds less emboldened than the chickadee rushed in to the feeders.

A chickadee takes flight from a nearby bird feeder as it heads toward Jean Stover of North Berwick. Stover can recognize some birds by unique markings. Staff photo by Gabe Souza

Since moving from the York coast, where she lived for 50 years, to the quiet of the North Berwick woods, Stover has enjoyed watching moose, black bear, bobcat and snowshoe hare in her yard for the past 12 years. But with the chickadees, she shares a special connection.

When Stover’s son, Matthew, visited from Philadelphia, he doubted the bird stories.

“I sat at her kitchen table (watching out the window) as she was absolutely mobbed, and one chickadee stayed on her for almost two minutes while she just stood there looking at me, smiling ear to ear, half in wonder and half ‘I-told-you-so,'” he said. “I hope she doesn’t mind me saying this, but she went through a tough few years around her mother’s passing, and I think it was really important for her to have this bit of happiness each day.”