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, August 25, 2014

Bird gangs form in the fall

Northern Cardinal photo from Wikimedia Commons
I hope everyone is enjoying the last days of summer. Every evening and morning I listen excitedly as the trees fill with chips and chirps of cardinals forming winter gangs. Young cardinals don’t have a set territory and  move around trying to join up with the older more experienced cardinals after nesting season. If your yard is hospitable you can enjoy large numbers of these bright red birds during the dreary winter months.

A lot of other birds are also looking to join gangs right now. It’s not unusual for a group of mixed species to fly together for protection and to forage for food. If you take a walk in the woods you may observe that certain birds gather together in a relatively small space, while the remainder of the woodland is empty.
Titmice, chickadees, nuthatches, Brown Creepers, and woodpeckers which do most of their foraging on trees are sometimes called a tree-foraging guild. Bird guilds are groups of species in a community that exploit the same set of resources in a similar manner, but are not necessarily related closely taxonomically.
Black-capped Chickadee: Nature’s Backyard Charmer

Migrating warblers, kinglets, pewees, gnatcatchers, and vireos may join tree-foraging guilds for a short time during migration stopovers. I love it when the kinglets fly in to mingle with the chickadees every fall. The Black-capped Chickadee seems like such a small bird until it’s sitting next to the teeny tiny crowned kinglet.

But even though these birds work together to survive there are still scuffles and fights to determine hierarchy. Sometimes it’s based on size; the larger Hairy Woodpeckers are more dominant over the smaller Downy Woodpecker which is more dominant than the White-breasted Nuthatch, which can be more dominant then the titmouse which is always more dominant than the chickadee.

Dominance may also be determine through age and gender. An older male titmouse may find he’s socially dominant over a young female nuthatch.
Socially dominate tree-foraging birds get first choice at where they want to feed on the tree.

This may be why the little, least dominant chickadee has developed a special ability to charm humans into giving them treats. At my feeding stations I try to keep all the birds happy with a variety of foods at different levels and in different locations around the yard.

Related Articles:
Do Birds Eat Only at Certain Levels? http://goo.gl/vgE94
Why feed birds in the fall http://goo.gl/Jq4Aj
You get more birds if you feed year-round http://goo.gl/IsJKJ
Shilly-shallying Golden-crowned Kinglet: Adorable! http://goo.gl/d50zT
Black-capped Chickadee: Nature’s Backyard Charmer http://goo.gl/ji1vh