As I made my way through the overwhelming and oppressive — and I mean that in the best way imaginable, if that’s even possible — 638,000-square foot maze of merch otherwise known as the New York International Gift Fair earlier this week, it was the curious and inventive tweaks on utilitarian household standards that caught my eye. Toilet paper dispensers with built-in matchbook holders. Desk lamps with gun-shaped remote controls. Tea towels embedded with magnets.

However, none of these items caught my attention quite like a whimsical, avian-themed take on a super-important household item that’s historically been neglected in the design department: the smoke detector.

Spotted at the always fabulous neo-utility booth, the Chick-a-Dee Smoke Detector is just that: a household smoke alarm in the shape of Poecile atricapilla, the American black-capped chickadee, chilling out on a branch-shaped base that mounts into ceiling. When the device detects smoke, an 85 decibel “warning call” is emitted. The alarm starts out as a pleasant but noticeable “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” call and evolves into a more urgent and louder “dee-dee-dee” call in seriously smoky situations. Interesting enough, it's thought that the number of "dees" called out by a chickadee increase depending on the potential threat posed by predators spotted overhead.

The award-winning, blogger-adored product, just now migrating to the U.S. for its stateside debut at NYIGF, is the creation of Dutch design student Louise van der Veld who submitted her concept to a household fire safety-oriented design contest organized by the Union of Dutch Insurance Companies in 2006. She based the design on those chintzy decorative birds that clip onto the branches of Christmas trees while keeping in mind that a bird’s call (or lack of call) is often a harbinger of not-so-pleasant things to come. The Chick-a-Dee website references the fact that miners traditionally used caged canaries as carbon monoxide detectors while working in the mines. If the perpetually singing little creatures fell silent it was a sign for miners to get the hell out as the bird’s silence was the result of poisoning from toxic gases.

Obviously, the Chick-a-Dee Smoke Detector wasn’t designed for use by miners but by design-conscious homeowners, particularly those with, ahem, minors, in the house. The device offers a fun a way to spruce up a children’s bedrooms while also adding a must-have safety feature. Chick-a-Dee is available in five colors: white, green, blue, pink and white on black. The battery lifespan of the device is 1.5 years and can easily be tested. And although I'm sure the sound of a Chick-a-Dee call is distinct from an actual chickadee call, you may want to think hard on this one if you have a particularly verbal flock of the birds living around your home. Who knows ... maybe a tufted titmouse smoke detector — "peter-peter-peter" — is in the works?

You can order one now for $79 or hold off until they officially fly onto the shelves of virtual and brick-and-mortar US retailers later this month. 

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

The whimsical new face of home fire safety: Battery-operated songbirds
Conceived for a house fire awareness design competition in the Netherlands, the cutest designer smoke detector out there, the Chick-a-Dee, migrates to U.S. soil