Friday, June 24, 2005

CHICKADEES ARE SMART

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When I moved up onto my mountain, the very first winter in the tent, I would put out sunflower seeds on the tree stump next to the tent and feed the wild birds. The boldest and most common visitors were the chickadees. They are pert little balls of fine feathers. A jaunty black cap perched on their heads, really cute little birds.

Utterly unafraid of nearly anything. It doesn't surprise me to see them in the news! From the All headline news service:
Chickadee can be a delightful songbird for bird lovers. But, researchers reveal the little black-capped songbird whistles "chick-a-dee-dee" to caution flock mates of an approaching predator.

The Associated Press reports researcher Christopher N. Templeton along with his colleagues came to that conclusion after recording the chickadee songs and studied them by situation. They also analyzed the calls on acoustic instruments and watched the birds’ reaction when the songs were played back.

Templeton says, "These birds are passing on way more information than anyone ever dreamed possible, and only by carefully looking at these calls can we really appreciate how sophisticated these animals are. They change a bunch of different features about the call, subtle acoustic features, the spacing between the notes, things we can't hear."

The calls describe the nature of the predator like snake or mammal using a number of "dee" notes. Templeton says, "The more they add, the more dangerous the predator." For example, the familiar "chick-a-dee" denotes a stationary predator.
He says, "We had no idea that any animal was able to distinguish between predators that seem similar. It's life of death for them. It's just a fun bird-watching tool for us."

The findings have been published in Friday's issue of the journal Science.
When my son would go outside for firewood or to mess around, the little chickadees would grasp the edge of the feeder firmly with their tiny, delicate feet, raise their little black caps a full millimeter making them much bigger and chirp, "Chickadee-dee-dee-dee." If my son was looking hard at them and moving towards the feeder with the scoop full of seeds, they would hop to the far side of the feeder and virtually shout, "Chickadee--dee--dee--dee--deeee". This ear shattering little chirp of course was even scarier than the raised cap of black feathers. After getting their seeds, the little birds would acknowledge the tribute by saying, "Chickadee--dee," except their beaks would be full of seeds so normally they would say nothing at all but eat away.

Once I was using a power saw right next to their feeder which sits on the deck today. One irritated bird hopped onto the balustrade to scold me. He "dee--deed," me until he ran out of breath in between the whining rasp of the power saw. When a board fell with a crash, he jumped and then returned to scold me very firmly, raising his cap as high as possible. I am surprized he didn't peck my eyes out.

Being attacked by a 2" bird is scary.

The blue jays dislike these guys. Blue jays will chase them away from the feeder. My office window is next to a small peach tree. The chickdees fly into the tree, look into the window and proceed to chew me out for not chasing away the Blue Jays.

Sometimes, these little birds eat out of our hands. They will land on our heads if we sit outside too long. Of all the wild birds, they are the boldest.

Amazing what a few "dees" can do. I think I will "chickadee--dee--dee" Karl Rove.
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