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This is an amazing study into the mysteries of bird language that investigate how chickadees communicate about a wide range of predators:

http://students.washington.edu/ctemple2/chickadee.html

If you want to view the study in more depth, check out this link:

http://students.washington.edu/ctemple2/TempletonScience2005.pdf


It is amazing to get such clear scientific information on how the vocalizations of black-capped chickadees relate directly to the types of predators that are around and how much of a threat they pose!

It appears the the number of "dee's" added after the more commonly used "chick-a-dee-dee-dee" call relates to the level of danger a predator poses to the flock and therefore points to the kind of predator that is likely around.  The second link has a graph that includes 2 mammalian ground predators: ferret and house cat.

                                        


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Replies to This Discussion

Initially, when I was learning bird language I was told not to start with certain birds. Chickadees can be challenging ones to start with, since they are not ground birds and so many ground dwelling predators do not dramatically effect chickadee behavior. As this article points out, however, they are reliable indicators of avian predators.

Oops, I just checked the link and looks like it is now broken or shut-down. That is too bad.

To sum it up, chickadees demonstrate the threat level of a predator. This is pretty amazing, since it is easily observable and can really speed up the process of learning bird language.
This is a still live link to the information shared in the (now closed) links listed above:

http://www.physorg.com/news4716.html

and here is another:

http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/~ct510/chickadee.html

This is a great reminder to remember that when studying bird language it is helpful to put yourself in the mind of the bird. Chickadees are only alarmed by the presence of such creatures as large hawks and large owls in a minor way. It is likely that large ground predators such as cougars and bears do not create a great deal of concern for the chickadees.

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