Sunday, December 13, 2009

Chickadees - talking

Area birders are getting ready for the 110th annual Christmas Bird Count.  It is an enjoyable activity - if the weather is not too cold - where groups of people are assigned to count all the birds in an area that they see in a given time.  One of my favorite winter birds is the Black-capped Chickadee as they are so much fun to watch.  Right now I have about 10 visiting my feeders.  Here is an article I had published several years ago about the "Talking Chickadees."  I hope you enjoy some wildness of Idaho.

“Chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee,” said a black-capped chickadee as a cat strolled across the lawn toward the feeder where several species of birds were feeding. They all flew off in a hurry.

The chickadee was soon back at the feeder, alone, feeding until a flock of blackbirds showed up hording the feeder again.

After a few minutes setting on a limb above the blackbirds, the chickadee again sounded the “chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee.” The larger birds quickly left the feeder leaving the chickadee to enjoy the black oil sunflower seeds.

A recent study conducted by Christopher Templeton of the University of Washington and Erick Green of the University of Montana, found that black-capped chickadees has a complex language. Their study found the chickadee’s call may contain as many as 15 “dees” and the tone of the call indicates to other species what kind of predator is present.

In the study, Templeton and Green, examined the relationship between chick-a-dees and nuthatches by recording thousands of calls and how the birds reacted to them.

“In winter months, chickadees are faced with a wide variety of predators that vary tremendously in the amount of risk they pose,” said Templeton. “The nuthatch is able to discriminate the information from each call.”

The chickadee call has four types of syllables and can be uttered in different tones. When chickadees sees a predator, a warning call of a soft “seet” indicates a flying predator while a loud prolonged “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” warns of a perched hawk, owl or falcon said the study.

Templeton recorded the different calls of the chickadees to see how nuthatches would react to them. One of the defense maneuvers nuthatches have is of mobbing.

He attached speakers to trees where nuthatches lived, but where there were no chickadees so their actions would not tip off the nuthatches. The recorded alarm calls caused the nuthatches to form into mobs and attack the speakers.

The nuthatches acted accordingly to each distress call that was played.

“Their mobbing is not enough to kill you, but it is enough to make you want to go somewhere else,” said Templeton.

Another interesting phenomenon that black-capped chickadees have is their ability to hide, store and remember where they place hundreds of seeds. When food is abundant they will collect the food placing it behind pieces of bark, in cracks in trees and fill small crevices and cavities.

With the ability of warning other competitors about dangers, chickadees can send the false alarm causing larger birds to fly away, leaving the cheating chickadees to enjoy the food for themselves.

Birds in general respond to alarm calls of others, but the black-capped chickadee has apparently learned that “chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee” will help it keep an adequate food supply.

I wonder if the bird world has a “wolf, wolf” story also.



Sunny said...

I really enjoyed your post. Your pictures are wonderful and such interesting information about my favorite little bird.
I have had Chickadees eat out of my hand, you have to be very patient and still and hope not to freeze to death in the process.
Thanks so much for sharing.
Sunny :)

Kelly said...

...LOVED the post and the photos. I'm going to go on a CBC next Saturday as well. Hope it's not too cold!

Shirleyanne said...

Helllo Bill,
What lovely photos of the chickadee! Stunning!
Really enjoyed the flying swan photo aswell.

Kind Regards

Lorna said...

Chicadees are my favorites! Used to live in a house on a hill overlooking a natural preserve (think Rocky Mountains) and they were some of the little visitors to the birdfeeders on the deck. Of course, they had to beat the quail family that would feast like a herd of country bumpkins...

Janie said...

Interesting article. These are smart birds, who not only have their warning call system, but know how to use it falsely when it suits them. Resourceful little guys, aren't they?

This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

Bill: That was a neat story and great photos. I love the Chickadees and they flit in and out to feed. They are so much fun to watch.

Jenn Jilks said...

I remember working as a student teacher at an outdoor ed. science school. A blue jay was attacking a chickadee that was in the banding cage. It had killed the chickadee, took the chickadees band tag and dropped it a couple of metres away. I went in to report to my supervisor, who asked if I picked up the tag. I hadn't but marched out into the 3' of snow, and sub zero weather, and found it!

Great post!

Betsy from Tennessee said...

What a neat story, Bill. We have both nuthatches and chickadees here all year long. They are always together --and I hear them 'chattering' constantly. I didn't know the different calls. That is so interesting. Another bird which 'pals' around with the chickadees and nuthatches is the Tufted Titmouse. Do you have them also???? We have lots of all three of these---in groups!!!!

S. Etole said...

Wonderful pictures of your little friends.

Grayquill said...

You never disappoint me. I found your article very interesting - thanks!

Barefoot from Heaven said...

Now I finally know what a chickadee is. I've heard Nell say it the movie 'Nell' (with Jody Foster) all the time. Never had an idea. Love these little creatures. We have lots and lots of them in our back yard.

And there is a special one I call Gus. He keeps coming around every week once or twice and sits on the doornob peeking inside for the whole day. Flying back and forth.
They are so much fun.

Thanks for sharing your story.
Sweet bye's Dagmar

Leenie said...

Bill: Your wildlife photos and stories are fascinating. Being able to capture chickadees with your camera is quite a skill. Those little guys are quick!

Jann said...

Oohh, awesome photos! I love it when I capture a bird just as it's about to take off, it makes for a neat photo. Nice!

sunnymama said...

A very interesting post, thanks. :)

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