Saturday, January 17, 2015

In Praise of Chickadees

I do love me some chickadees.

Not talking today about the chickadee that according to the Urban Dictionary is "a chiefly Canadian term of familiar or affectionate address" to a young woman -- which term may have been derived "from a Mexican Spanish phrase composed of the word chica (girl) and an adjectival starting with the preposition de; the original phrase was forgotten because Spanish is not commonly spoken in Canada, and the spelling was conformed to that of the bird. Only known and used in certain areas."

Example: Hey there, chickadee! You're back from Chilliwack, eh?

Huh? And all this time I figured we good old boys of the South thought up calling purty little gals chickadees. Well, nebber mind. I of course am referring to the little black-and-white bird -- also cute -- that frequently comes flitting in to my bird feeder with a sassy, high pitched chikadeedeedeedee (the number of dee's apparently depending on how excited or agitated it is.)

The chickadee deserves to get more press. It is a fascinating little birdie. Perhaps it suffers discrimination because of its lack of bright red, yellow, or blue songbird colors.

A few interesting facts about Carolina Chickadees from my Compact Guide to South Carolina Birds (Lone Pine Publishing, 2007): Amazingly enough, chickadees are able to use their tiny bills in woodpecker fashion to dig out a nesting cavity in rotting trees during breeding seasons. Also, they hang together: Flocks of chickadees often are made up of members of the same family that will defend the same territory for generations. Imagine being strafed by a flock of these fearless guys. That would be like something right out of a Hitchcock flick.

The sponsors of the Great Backyard Bird Count over Saint Valentine's weekend call attention to the need for counters to distinguish among birds that are very similar in appearance -- the Black-Capped Chickadee and the Carolina Chickadee being a leading example. Upon consulting the authoritative Sibley's Guide to Birds (Alfred Knopf, 2000), my initial reaction was to be even less confident in my abilities to tell one kind of chickadee from another.

In general, the Carolina is "smaller, smaller-headed, and shorter tailed than Black-capped; drabber overall with slightly different voice." Under Black-capped, there is a much longer description of differences, such as (just for example) that "its cheek-patch is entirely white (Carolina blends to pale gray at rear), and it has a greenish back and buffy flanks (Carolina is duller grayish)…." Gosh, if I have to get into minute dissection of cheek-patchs and buffy flanks, I am a goner, 'cause my eye doc hasn't upgraded my prescription lenses lately.

Sandra Dee: An Early Chickadee

Thank goodness, when I looked at the David Allen Sibley maps showing the distribution of these types of chickadees, my concerns were considerably eased. Black-capped Chickadees are not shown stretching down as far as South Carolina, nor even North Carolina, while the Carolina Chickadee covers all of South Carolina, and in fact is pretty much all over Dixie like the dew. So it is very likely the chickadees I will be listing in my counts will be Carolinas. If I should detect some Black-capped mixing in, that would be breaking news for the scientists because it would indicate movement of a population.

Aside from all that, I just enjoy watching the chickadees arrive in the morning as I slowly savor my first cup of coffee. They make their racket in their grand entrance as if to tell me and Superdawg we are no menace to them at all. Indeed, we aren't. They are our welcome guests.

                                                       © Robert G. Holland  2015

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