Since I will spending the next year and a half or so eating, breathing, sleeping, and eventually becoming a Carolina Chickadee…I mean a person with a Master’s Degree, I feel like laying down some knowledge on my study species is important.  Inevitably, the Carolina Chickadee will be a dominant topic here, so might as well get started with them before I start to grow to resent them (kidding).

So what do Carolinas look like? Below is the majestic Carolina Chickadee…

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…on Opposite Day.  The photo above is actually of a Black-capped Chickadee I saw when I was back home on Long Island.  The Carolina Chickadee is pictured below. I promise.

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Or at least one of them is the Carolina Chickadee.  The other is a Black-Capped.  But which one is which!?  Obviously, quite obviously, the Carolina is the one of the right.  Y’all can see the differences, right?  RIGHT?  Maybe a photo would be easier to spot the differences…

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…actually yeah, this is much better now.  As you can see, the Carolina Chickadee (right) is like ten times more cute.  They can also see through titanium safes, determine how to split the bill and tip at a restaurant without a calculator when dining out with friends, and are experts in claw to bill combat (source).  Super bad ass birds.

All jokes aside.  Chickadees are BABs. But before we get to the super cool bits (later posts y’all), I’m going to lay down the foundations of the Carolina.  A good foundation makes for a strong house, a strong house for the additional chickadee facts.  Plus I cannot reveal all their secrets in one go, it’s not what they want.  So let’s keep it to the basics for now.

The Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis, family: Paridae) is a charismatic backyard bird found in the south-eastern portion of the United States.

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They prefer a forested habitat, filled with tree holes and snags. This is because they’re secondary cavity nesters, meaning that they build their nests in tree cavities made by other birds.  Luckily for me, they’ll also nest in artificial cavities (aka bird boxes) placed near treed areas.  The forests also need to have a healthy shrub, midstory, and overstory layer.  This is because they’re acrobats, foraging acrobats.  The Carolina Chickadees bips and bops around on trees and their ilk looking for insects and spiders.  When times are lean, like in the winter, seeds and fruits become their staple food source.  Carolinas will also cache their food in branches, trunks, and dead leaves.  By having a secret stash of food, they can help build up their fat stores even more.

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Cache-ing! 

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The Carolina Chickadee is a plucky little bird.    In the winter they fight each other for territory and for access to bird feeders, in breeding season they defend the their breeding territories and of course the for the ladies (oo-la-la).They also fight for dominance within the flock (which relates back to breeding opportunities).  Chickadees will also mob predators, taking short rapid flights at them while giving off an alarm call (here’s a nice video example  it’s Black-cappeds though).  How gutsy is that?

Speaking of gutsy, did I mention that they sing?  The Carolina Chickadee has at least 35 different song types consisting of high and low frequency notes.  An individual bird may have 12 different types that it uses for different functions (fighting, learned, for the ladies).  The song is not my jimmy jam though, my colleague Laura Jessup (her site) will be looking more into that.  My jimmy jam is the call, which is even more super cool (sorry Laura).  The call from whence the the chickadee is named, the chick-a-dee call serves a variety of purposes much like the song.  The most coolest part is the fact that it serves as a referential alarm call.  This means that the call encodes information about the predator in it for other birds to interpret.  The number of dees encode predator size while the call rate determines how dangerous a predator is.  These two aspects are what I’ll be looking at in my thesis, as well as their offspring’s responses to these calls (my thesis will get post at some point).

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So ugly, it’s kind of precious.

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Speaking of offspring, let’s talk babies.  Carolina Chickadees are socially monogamous, meaning that they only have one partner in the breeding season.  Often times, they’ll keep the partner around for awhile, like 2 years or more, which is a long time for a song bird.  Pairs form in the non-breeding season, August to February and the eggs are laid in late March to April.  The eggs are laid in cavities, and the nest is lined with fur and fibers.  The eggs are a white in color with caramel colored speckles and splotches and usually six eggs are laid.  Mrs. Chickadee incubates the eggs for 12-15 days before the chippy chirping of baby birds is heard.  Both parents feed the young and 16-19 days post hatching, the young are finally ready to leave the nest and start life independent of their parents.  Out in the real world, the fledings will have new dangers.  In the nest cavity, they had to worry about getting eat by Red-bellied woodpeckers, raccoons, opossums, cats, rat snakes, and hostile take-overs from House Wrens.  Outside, a variety of predatory birds (hawks, owls, kestrels) and cats are on the look-out for some chickadinner.

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Plz the nest cavity 4 me

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And this, dear readers was a brief, just under 1000 word foray into the Carolina Chickadee. Eventually, you’ll learn more about the Carolina Chickadee than you ever though possible since the groundwork has been laid.  If you want to learn more about the Carolina Chickadee but can’t wait for me to post again, drop a question in the comments!  Until next time, chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee! 

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About Natalia Maass

Current graduate student at Eastern Kentucky University (2017) pursuing a Master's of Science in Biology. Talk nerdy to me.

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