The following article was written by Kennedy Gitter, Ripple’s assistant naturalist in the Dunes series at Woodland Dunes Nature Center and Preserve.
As I walked through the woods, I heard a familiar song from the trees around me … “Cheeseburger!”. Guess what that means … Spring is approaching! What does Cheeseburger have to do with spring you might ask? Now, my favorite little bird, Chikadi, calls that “cheeseburger”. Or “Hey Sweetie!” Sing more often in the spring. Men start singing the song in mid-January, becoming more frequent as winter progresses, and then heard much more often in spring. You may know their famous “Chikadi Dee Dee” call, as we are working on those neat little bird topics, but they use that call to make the whole of each other. Did you know that you are talking about?
Chikadi is one of the best alerts in the bird world. When danger is imminent, they warn each other and other birds. How do they do it? Now, a recent study of Chikadi’s call found that not only the information in the alarm call for nearby threats, but also the size of the danger, the relative threat level, and the location can be shared! How beautiful is it? All by slightly tweaking the “chickadee-dee-dee” call.
According to a study conducted by the University of Washington, there is certainly a pattern in what the chicks are saying after hearing over 5,000 alert calls. The number of “dees” at the end of the call corresponds to the size and threat level of the nearby danger. The more “acts” you have at the end of a call, the more dangerous the threat. Now we humans may think that large predators like hawks are the most dangerous threat to Chikadi’s eyes, but they are not. Given that small predators are more agile and more likely to catch Chikadi, Chikadi actually considers small-sized threats to be more dangerous. This means that the number of “dees” added to their songs is much higher for smaller predators than for larger predators! For example, a large cat on the ground may trigger only 5-10 “Dee”, while a small hawk sitting nearby may trigger 20 dozen “Dee”. Therefore, you can tell others the magnitude of the danger (and the danger nearby) simply by changing the number of “dees” in the call … but I want to say where the danger lies. What about the case?
Well, they can! Chikadi uses the “Chikadi Dee” call for predators who are on the ground, stationary, or sitting. If the danger is flying over them, they will use another call, their “seen!”. Call to tell other birds that there is a threat in the air.
By the way, just because you hear the call “Chikadi Dee Dee” does not mean that you are always in danger. They also use the call for other social conversations, such as announcing where the food is. Therefore, you may hear the call around the bird feeder. However, as a general rule, if you hear more than five “dees”, it’s more likely to be a warning call, not just a social call.
Another call they make is called a gargling call. This call is said to sound like “a garbled call with everything mixed together,” which may not sound like a song to us, but is related to courtesy and territorial establishment. In terms of acting like any other song. This call can also be heard if a low-ranked Chikadi is too close to a higher-ranked Chikadi.
To be such a little bird, they certainly have a lot to say! The way they can communicate well with each other about the details of the danger is already really pretty, but how they are making those calls to tell other Chikadies what they disagree with. It will be even cooler when you think about it. Chikadi often become mobs together and fly towards the threat in an attempt to ward off the threat. Those little birds don’t seem to be afraid! The next time you hear a chick, ask and understand what you are telling the birds nearby. It may help you find and understand what they are looking at!