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door to NaturE Nearly everyone knows the fi eld marks


of the chickadee, its black cap, white cheeks, black bib, grayish back, and the brownish wash of its fl anks. It is gener- ally thought that the sexes are not distin- guishable. But banders, having handled and measured thousands of these birds, think it may be possible to tell the males from the females. T e black cap of the male appears to extend farther onto its back than does that of the female. Also, the male’s bib is wider, especially right beneath the beak, and the bottom line of the male’s bib is irregular and tends to “feather” into the grayish breast. T e female’s bib is squared off at the bottom.


Despite all these distinguishing


marks, one of my friends proposed the following toast to these little beady-eyed friends:


Here’s to the chickadee, T e sexes are alike you see. It’s hard to tell the he from she, But she can tell, and so can he!


T ese seemingly carefree birds sing


two well-loved melodies. Its “chick-a- dee-dee-dee” call ranks fi rst, followed by its high, piercing, far-reaching “WHEE- dee-dee” song. On hearing this latter song, scores of people confuse it with that of an Eastern Phoebe whose song is very abrupt, wheezy, and not as musi- cal as the chickadee’s. We’ve heard this chickadee whistle in every month of the year, but much more so in spring and early summer.


Students from the University of Wis-


consin – Milwaukee tape-recording birdcalls at the Cedarburg Bog Field Sta- tion were able to associate about 30 dif- ferent combinations of chickadee calls, songs, and notes with an equal number of actions, feelings, and mannerisms. Quite a vocabulary for such a tiny bird!


T e fact that so much of its winter diet consists of the eggs of harmful in-


doorcountyliving.com Winter 2011/2012 Door County Living 57


sects makes the chickadee a favorite friend of farmers and orchardists. T e primary food that keeps these birds re- turning to our and many others’ feeders is the black oil sunfl ower seed.


Of all the chickadees that have trust-


ingly eaten sunfl ower seeds from our hands, as many or more could not be persuaded to trust us. Some will impa- tiently fl y to one of the empty feeders and rap sharply against the sides, over and over, while others gladly take seeds directly from us. I like to think that the obstinate ones are saying, “Okay buddy, hurry up with those seeds. Don’t think for one moment that we’d take a chance sitting on your hand!”


Chickadee, rest assured that we trust


and respect you as one of our dearest friends.


Read Roy’s “Door to Nature” column each week in the Peninsula Pulse or online at www.ppulse.com.


Miss Emma Toft, of Toft Point in Baileys Harbor, fi rst lady of Wisconsin conservation, was a master of luring chickadees to feed from her hand.


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