Poecile atricapillus, the Black-capped Chickadee, is a common neighbor at Long Lake. Although largely out of sight and relatively silent in summer, these birds are non-migratory, and with the fall of autumn leaves come flocking, the occasional “fee-bee” call of summer giving way to the familiar “Chicka-dee-dee-dee.”
If we listen carefully we can detect multiple calls, and the birds do use them for communication. The familiar Chicka-dee-dee can be an alarm call, with the number of “de’s” corresponding to the threat level. Other birds which tend to associate with Chickadee flocks do respond to their alarm calls, even when that species has no similar alarm call of its own. Other interesting facts concerning this tiny bird, according to the Cornell University Ornithology Lab, include:
- When you see them take one seed at a time and fly off with it, it may be to eat it, or it may be to hide it. Each morsel is placed in a different spot, and the bird can remember literally thousands of hiding places. To accommodate that kind of memory, every autumn brain neurons die and are replaced with new ones.
- The birds form flocks in the fall, and each flock has a social hierarchy. Some birds, known as “winter floaters,” associate with multiple flocks, and may have a different social rank in different flocks.
- Although they form flocks in winter and find mates for the following year then, each bird sleeps alone. Even in sub-zero temperatures they find a hole in trees, which they can easily excavate in dead wood.
- The oldest known Chickadee was re-captured in Minnesota 11 ½ years after it was originally banded.
Black oil sunflower seed is a favorite food, and they also enjoy suet. Cleanup of sunflower seed shells in the spring is a small price to pay for the joy of having them near the window all winter.