December 31, 2008

A Feather in Your Cap

I am very proud to note that I exceeded the 1,000 mark this week for total site visits to Your Bird of the Week. Pretty great, huh? Yet, I felt a twinge of guilt as I looked at that number, because it certainly was not due to any consistent effort on my part. No, it was mainly due to random Google searches. Would you believe someone actually googled, "What Kind of Bird Are You Quiz"? I mean, I believe that. But, would you?

Sigh! I got busy at work a couple months ago and suddenly lost my will to blog. But in 2009, I have made a resolution to be better at Your BOTW. How hard is it? I used to do this daily! In an e-mail! I can keep this up weekly, right?

With this new, bold resolution, I feel like we should start with a bird that can only be described as cheerful during the most trying of circumstances. A bird that is a frequent winter visitor to bird feeders, and a favorite of bird geeks everywhere. It reminds me of a chubby little kid, all puffed up with a black cap to keep it warm. In fact, if I wanted to keep a bird as a pet, I think it would be this, Your BOTW (and the first bird of 2009), the black-capped chickadee.

Fact: The black-capped chickadee is a little bird, just about 6 inches tall, with white cheeks, a black bib, and (what else?) a black cap. Its back, wings, and tail are a dark gray, and the upper wing feathers are edged in white. As I mentioned: totally adorable.

Do you know what else is cute? Its little, cheerful voice. In fact, it's how the chickadee gets its name. Its call is a sharp "chick-a-dee-dee-dee. It also has a song of two or three high notes that sort of sounds like "Fee-bee. Fee-bee." You'll hear both on this little spectograph.

Fact: The black-capped chickadee eats caterpillars and bugs during the spring and summer and mostly seeds during the winter. The seeds it very often gets from bird feeders. In fact, nearly every video I could find of a black-capped chickadee was taken during the winter. You have to admit, they do look awfully cheerful for what is likely a rough time of year.

Fact: The chickadee gleans its insect meals by hopping around trees, even hanging upside down to do it. Once it gets a bug or seed, it will hold the food against a tree branch to peck at it.
Fact: One reason the chickadee may be so happy in winter is that it hides seeds and other food in individual nooks and crannies, and it can remember literally thousands of its hiding places. With their similar love of food storage, the Mormons should consider making the chickadee an official LDS bird.
Fact: The black-capped chickadee is also energy-conscious. It can actually lower its own body temperature on cold winter nights, entering regulated hypothermia to conserve huge amounts of energy.
Fact: As you probably noticed in the feeder video, chickadees gather in flocks in the winter. These flocks have strict social hierarchies. There are the cool kids who get to eat first and the weirdos who get to eat last. Some birds actually flit from flock to flock, and have established (and very different) places in each flock's hierarchy. (This is just a guess, but I doubt the cool kids leave their flock very often.)
Fact: Chickadee sex is a pretty tame affair. They are generally monogamous. They often pick out a nest site together (usually in a tree cavity or nest box), and the female gets busy building the nest. The female is the sole egg incubator, but the male will feed her and the nestlings after they hatch.
Fact: Even chickadee fights are sort of sweet. One aggressive display they make is called "ballet." As far as I understand it, two birds will face off on a tree limb and hop and pivot around each other. The winner ends up facing his opponent, while the loser usually ends up facing away? Yeah, birds are weird.

This has been Your BOTW.


Tim said...

Great. Now I'm going to have the chickadee's call and song in my head all day (as I learned yesterday, the call and song are in fact two different things). Good ol' BOTW! Looking forward to more facts in '09!

Jill said...

I have seen this bird a lot and never knew its name, let alone any facts about it. My kids have learned a song about chickadees. The song now had a new meaning.

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