For the Birds: Spring is in the Air - Can you hear it?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Black-capped Chickadee
Text and Photos
by Christine Southwick

Early morning walks are being invigorated by the cheerful sounds of American Robins singing their Cheery-up Cheery O songs, with lots of other birds adding their melodies.

How Happy are these sounds?

Have you noticed that the song that Black-capped Chickadees are singing has changed? No longer just the “Dee dee dee dees” contact call of the winter time, now there is what I call a “Fee bee” song.

As one of my friends said, it’s the “I’m looking for a wife song”-- I’ve claimed a space, now all I need is a female to make the nest, and we can raise a family song….

Pugnacious Song Sparrow

Our resident Song Sparrow and Spotted Towhee males are no longer singing their more sedate winter songs which keep their territories marked during the winter months. They have now started singing their “I’m looking for a wife song”

Both males and females can sing, but it is the males, driven by their rising testosterone that belt out those awe-inspiring melodious songs.

Female Spotted Towhee calling

In our area, Pacific Wrens seem to go on forever before stopping, then repeating again and again. Spotted Towhees have started singing their trilling song, usually from a leafless branch about 4-6 feet from the ground. Here in Shoreline, you may have breeding Dark-eyed Juncos. Their trilling song can be hard to tell from the Spotted Towhee’s, but right now the Spotted Towhees are singing, and the Dark-eyed Juncos seem to just be chasing each other.

The majority of bird sounds we hear in the winter are call notes to stay connected to individuals and the flock. For example, in the winter we hear juncos making their clicking sounds (almost like a clock ticking), but in the summer, the male juncos sings almost as loudly as Spotted Towhees.

Male Spotted Towhee
Some studies have suggested that successful females have learned not to sing or call as much as males since singing near a nest can cause predation.

I have observed chickadees making a soft call note just before arriving at their nest with food.  
Their nestling come to the cavity opening loudly demanding to be fed, and as soon as the parent(s) leave, drop away from the opening, becoming quiet until the next feeding.

That makes it hard to know where chickadees are nesting and if the nestlings have hatched. This is great survival adaptation by chickadees, but frustrating for predators and human observers.

For those who thought only male birds sing



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