WHAT THE PECK: The Wee Chickadee

(Illustration: Jessie Mclaughlin)

Does anything say spring more than the sound of birdsong wafting through your window in the
morning? Part of this symphony is likely the tweets and chirps of the black-capped chickadee, a
common sight and sound year-round here in Nova Scotia.

Birds sing for many reasons, including marking territory and mating, but birdsong in the morning is thought to be a demonstration of strength from male birds. As birds often feed during the day, they are weakest in the morning. Singing takes energy, so a bird singing in the morning is showing off that he is a strong and fit mate. Morning is also quieter and typically less windy, so their song carries further that time of day.

The chickadee’s common calls are either ‘chick-a-dee-dee-dee’ or ‘cheese-burger’. Their calls
resemble language — the more ‘dee’s in their song, the higher the threat of a predator.

Despite their tiny brains, chickadees are smart little songbirds. They hide their food in various
places, remembering thousands of snack-stowing locations at once. They replace their brain
neurons every fall to keep up with new information and changes in their flocks and environments.

Like little feathered tour guides, small migrating birds in unfamiliar territory are commonly
spotted alongside chickadees. Birders will often look for chickadee flocks during migration
seasons to see who they’re hosting.

Their forest edge habitat is increasing, along with backyard feeding and housing, so their
population is on the rise. So, like it or not, chatty chickadees will be waking you up on spring
mornings for years to come.


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