About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Monday, February 11, 2013

What the "dee" in Chick-a-dee means

I have a Wild Birds Unlimited window feeder that my cats and I have been enjoying all winter. I especially like it when the Black-capped Chickadee stops by to tseet, tseet hello, pick out a seed that pleases him and zip away. At about a ½ ounce, these slight birds have no problem feeding with much bigger birds or asking me to refill the feeder.

Chickadees have a couple kinds of songs and lots of different calls. Songs are usually longer and used to attract mates or deter male rivals. Calls are usually shorter notes with a variety of meanings such as look out for the danger, hello, or foods here.

At the end of nesting season, young chickadees leave the territory they were hatched and join non-family flocks to forage for food together all winter. The flocks usually are equal in the numbers of males and females and pairs form.

In the Wild Bird Guides: Black-capped Chickadee, Susan Smith writes that the fascinating thing about the chick-a-dee call is that the dee notes of the chickadees that live together for a while meld to form a common dee for the group. Then chickadees can identify to which flock other chickadees belong. Studies also suggest that the proportion of each note type within a chick-a-dee call could encode information about what the caller is most likely to do next.

At the end of January chickadees begin to explore potential nest sites (bird houses) so that as soon as the flocks begin to break up for breeding, each pair can claim a territory within their home range. Flock ranges can be anywhere between 20-50 acres in size.

As chickadees dispute territory rights, the loud whistled fee-bee-beeyee songs become a familiar sound. You’ll hear male chickadees engage in prolonged fee-bees battles with their male neighbors.
Besides defending a territory a male must woo his mate by feeding her tasty treats. The female receives her gifts with a broken dees vocalization made exclusively by the females.

The male continues to present the female with food while the nest is being built and during egg incubation. When the nestlings hatch, poppa bird is there with food for the babies too. With a little squawk call, he prompts the babies to open up. Squawk calls can be given by either parent to stimulate their babies mouth to gape for food.
If the parents feel threatened by the approach a predator near the nest, a chickadee can take a defensive stance and produce a loud hiss call along with a sudden forward and downward head movement that resembles a striking snake.

When babies leave the nest you may hear a begging dee call at your feeders that sounds a lot like “feed me! Feed me me!” The young chickadees continue to give the begging dees until their family flock breaks up and they disperse from their natal territory.

Listen to a sample of the sounds of the Black-Capped Chickadee: http://www.birdjam.com/birdsong.php?id=12
Source: Wild Bird Guides: Black-capped Chickadee available at Wild Birds Unlimited

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