Why the Chickadee Deserves a Place on the Favorite Bird List
That said, a good argument can be made for the chickadee being your favorite bird, and one of my favorite birds.
“Chickadee” is the common name given to a group of birds which talk with one another, and occasionally to us, with some variation of “chick-a-dee-dee-dee.” There are seven chickadees in North America, all in the Genus Poecile. Three are found in eastern North America. The Carolina Chickadee is the southern species which ranges about as far north as southern Pennsylvania; it has not been recorded in Vermont. The Boreal Chickadee is the brown-capped inhabitant of northern boreal forests. It is uncommon in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. On rare occasions during the winter it may roam as far south as my neighborhood in southeastern Vermont. “Our” chickadee in New England is the Black-capped Chickadee.
Back to my interrogator who immediately followed her declaration by adding, “They stick around all year.”
|Chickadee feeding on web-worms|
However, there must be additional reasons for claiming the chickadee as the favorite bird than their every-day-of-the-year presence in our neighborhoods. Remember that House Sparrows and Rock Pigeons also maintain a year-round presence, and they do it even on the barren concrete and asphalt streets in the downtown. The House Sparrow and pigeon are hardy winter residents and survivors through the worst New England winters, just as are the chickadees. But, no one in their right mind would place either of these non-native birds anywhere close to a list of favorite birds much less name either as a favorite bird.
What is it then that would justify someone naming the chickadee as his/her favorite bird?
First, I have to admit to what I have written in the past. I have two chapters in my book, “Tails of Birding,” which argue that we should never call a bird “cute.” I have received lots of friendly flak for those essays, but I stand by them. (I suggest you beg, borrow, or buy the book and find out why “cute” should never be applied to a bird.)
Chickadees are curious little birds. Sometimes I will stand in the woods or near a thick tangle on a roadside. I won’t hear or see a single bird. Then I begin to “phish, phish, phish.” In moments, chickadees are coming near to check things out. They may bring a few friends, like a woodpecker, or a nuthatch, but they lead the way. They come close to check out the source of the phishing. Am I friend or foe? Could I possibly be food? Their response when they see me will explain why they are not my absolute favorite bird. When they see me they utter an exasperated “chick-a-dee” and fly off. It is as though they were saying, “Oh, it’s just you.”
When a hawk is in the neighborhood, Blue Jays raise a racket. They send out the alarm. So do chickadees. They don’t have the vocal capacity of the jays, but they are right there with their warning calls: “ChickadeedeedeeChickadeedeedee.” Chickadees not only call in reinforcements; they get right into the fray. They join the jays in harassing the hawk.
I once watched chickadees raise the first alarm on a Cooper’s Hawk, a bird eating predator and chickadee enemy. They were joined by a flock of jays and a couple of woodpeckers. A Cooper’s Hawk stands about 16.5 inches and weighs 1.0 pound. The Blue Jay stands 11 inches and weighs 3 ounces. The chickadee is 5.25 inches in height and tips the scale at about 1/3 ounce. The chickadees led the first attack. They ceded their field position (or is it aerial position?) as soon as the gang of jays arrived, but who can blame them. The woodpeckers rattled alarm from the safety of a tree trunk. The cardinal hid in the bushes and the doves flew off across the river. You have to like the chickadees; they are bold and gutsy.
“Chick-a-dee-dee-dee” is not the chickadee’s song; it is the chickadee’s call. It is the everyday language used to talk with its own kind, share food sources, tell of dangers, and thank me for finally putting out the seed. On mild winter days, and when spring finally makes its fitful appearance, the chickadee begins to sing. The song consists of a low, sweet, whistled “phe-be,” or “fee beeyee.” It is easy to miss the song.
|Chickadee emerges from its nest hole in a tree trunk|
Chickadees are socially monogamous. They form a pair bound, often in the fall or early winter and stick together throughout the nasty winter weather. In the spring they share nest building and they raise their broods together. But when the hormones begin flowing in the spring, fidelity gets washed away. He cheats on her, and she cuckolds him. Watch the chickadees in mid-April as they race around the bushes, shrubs and branches. Everybody is trying to get a little on the side and keep someone else from getting a little on the side, and everybody is getting some on the side. After a long winter staring at the cabin walls, the chickadee sex races are marvelously entertaining, and so accessible. You have got to love them for welcoming spring with such consumptive horniness.
|Chickadee opens a sunflower seed|
“Chick-a-dee-dee-dee.” Translated, that means good birding.