Thursday, February 16, 2012

Are they Black-capped Chickadees or Carolina Chickadees or Both? Plus Pale Male, Another Snowstorm, And Bird Bath Cat Turns Out to Be Twins. What???

After checking out the latest refurbishments of the nest on 927 Fifth Avenue,   Pale Male surveys his domainPhotograph courtesy of 
Yes, folks it must be February in Wisconsin because it is snowing.  Maybe we'll have a winter after all.  Perhaps Purple Finch is thinking the same thing.
As many of you have no doubt noticed House Sparrows appear to relish a good squabble.  This squabble has already begun over at the feeder but sparrow on the right doesn't appear to have the least compunction about joining the fray. Or as the O'Mealy side of my family used to say, "Is this a private fight or can anybody join in?"
And yes, the squirrels are still getting what they feel is their fair share of sunflowers even with the baffle on the feeder pole.  How?  They're squirrels.  How not?

  Hi Donna. I need help!

I have watched my feeder chickadees for years. I SWEAR I have both-- at least one black-capped (recently I have seen 2) AND two Carolinas. The one is much "stockier", has a bigger head, fluffier appearance I guess, just looks bigger and stouter with a bigger cap and bib. The other two are more streamlined, appear much smaller.  I have tried and tried to catch them on the feeders and they are NOT cooperative little things, and light tends to be bad when they are active. I've attached a few snaps from a cloudy but busy day at the feeders.  Am I nuts or do I have both? I some head shots from the back as well but they all seem to have black “stripe” on the nape. Am I being fooled by posture? Sexual dimorphism perhaps?  In my area they could be either or both.

Sally is in Kentucky and she's right.  During the winter Black-capped Chickadees can be seen with Carolina Chickadees in their territory.  In actuality as the two species have been known to interbreed they obviously have mixed somewhere during breeding season as well.
The bad news is  that the two species are virtually identical.  Black-caps size in at four and a half inches to five inches and Carolinas overlap Black-caps at the four and a half inch mark.  
Not much help there.
According to my ever handy Peterson's Field Guide, the only real visual difference is that you can see the white edges of the wing feathers more clearly on Black-caps than Carolinas.  More clearly compared to what? 
I dug around my photos.  Look up at the bird on the pot.  She is a Black-capped as where these were taken the species seldom if ever overlap.  See the whitish area on the wing? I believe that is what we are talking about.
Now look at this shot.  See the white edges?  Now don't think this is all that easy. Remember you can see them on the Carolina's too but they are more evident on the BCs as they sometimes appear to merge together to make a definite white streak.
How about on this one?  I know, I know, from the underside the whole feather looks pretty pale. But isn't the edge a little lighter?  Looks that way to me.  Could be power of suggestion.  Next!

Okay here we go.   In this photograph the edges of the wing feathers are close enough together and staggered just right to see the block of white that one is supposed to see in a Black-capped Chickadee.

Here are some of the snapshots that Sally sent in for our perusal.  Look carefully.  The Chickadees weren't being particularly cooperative and Sally had to shoot in low light.  Does the bird above look a half inch longer than the bird below?
Or not?
Sally asked that we compare the bird above and the bird below.  Unfortunately we can't see the possible white streaks on these particular birds wings.  But to my eye these two birds appear to be different in size.
Fascinating!  Sally could you perhaps try again when the light and the birds might be more cooperative and go for the wings so we can look at any possible difference in the wing feather tips?  There is a none visual way to tell these  two species apart.  Their vocalizations are different but, sigh, you'd likely have to know the song and whistle of one well to pick out a difference.The Carolina Chickadee call is higher pitched and faster. But ah ha!  The Black-capped's two syllable whistle, fee-bee-ee is replaced by a four syllable whistle fee-bee, fee-bay in the Carolina.  Start listening carefully Sally and let us know what you hear.


It was near zero, the snow was coming down and blowing around like crazy.  I was in the bedroom when a heard a rather quiet kitty yowl from the kitchen or outside the patio door.  It made me wonder if Pyewacket had gotten outside somehow (usually she runs the other way if you even open the door.) so I made my way into the kitchen, turned the back light on and WOW, Bird Bath Cat was upright leaning against the patio door.  With Pye directly behind the glass on the other side.  Were they making friends?  I went to grab the camera and when I got back BB Cat had gone into a more hunkered down position.  Hard to see but Pye is on the floor this side of the glass.  Decided to try the flash though with low expectations that the flash wouldn't just reflect.

Well you can see Pye and also note the heating register under Pye which is squirting hot air out and warming the glass making it attractive to the poor kitty in the cold.  The kitty, who we now can't see in photos with flash. So it's back to no flash.
There is a low cat vocalization, not sure from whom. Pye is still there- see her ear against the white wood?  Okay look at the cat outside.  Bird Bath Cat looks round.  I'd recognize those muscular cheeks anywhere.

 Interesting that Pye isn't chasing him from window to window, maybe she is succumbing to his charms  But wait.  Look to B B Cat's left.  Is that the shadow of his head or what?  Now B B Cat hasn't run away after looking at me which he usually does. It is really cold and I wonder if he'd like to come in the house?  I get a handful of cat chow, open the door slowly a crack saying kitty, kitty, dribbling kitty chow on the step by the door and WHOA!!!!!  That isn't one Bird Bath CAT.  It's TWO Bird Bath CATS!!!!  They are VERY very similar.  

One heads for the the corner of the house and the other runs under the picnic table and beyond.  It was fast.  Sometimes you have to decide to actually watch what is going on so you'll know rather than diddle with equipment and possibly miss it.  Pye looks up at me and meows with extreme grumpiness.  What?  Before you hated the cat(s) outside but  now if you can have a seraglio you're deciding that might be a good time?  

 No doubt the saga will continue...  

Head's up!  A possible lurking Red-tail may have replaced the Cooper's.     Earlier today there had been a feeding frenzy outback with 19 Mourning Doves , 14 Juncos, two pair of Chickadees, heaven knows how many sparrows, nuthatch, Downys,  and finches when they all flushed and the squirrels in the trees all looked over the house and began to scold like maniacs.  Squirrels could care less about Cooper's.   They don't eat squirrels, but a Red-tail is quite another story.  We'll see what tomorrow brings. 

Donegal Browne

Monday, February 13, 2012

Doorstep Dove and Friend Do Winter

2:16pm  It's snowing and after most of another day without feeder birds, possibly because of Culprit the Cooper's Hawk, I look outside and there are the Mourning Dove pair of long standing in this territory, Doorstep Dove and Friend.  Friend gives me the eye.

After identifying me he goes back to eating.  It's been awhile since they've availed themselves of the feeding floor bounty and they are making up for lost time. 

Have you ever noticed that in cold weather doves appear to at times eat with their eyes closed.  As they keep pecking and hitting their mark when it comes to seed, I'm supposing that they're shutting their eyes to a slit to keep them from getting too cold.  The next time I look out everyone is gone.
3:36pm  Doorstep Dove is back along with the braver Juncos.  She's raised her left foot out the snow to warm it for awhile.  It appears to be cold enough that the snow isn't doing a quick melt even though it's snugged up to her body.
Doorstep now has her eyes slitted.  The Juncos who have been busily doing their double footed scratching in the snow to uncover seed suddenly go on alert.  Whatever got their attention doesn't seem to have caught Doorstep's.
Eyes still slitted, Doorstep Dove continues to eat though the Juncos have made a beeline for the Spruce tree, where the rest of their flock is already sheltered.  If there were danger to Doorstep, Friend would take off to distract the predator, Doorstep would hear his wings, (Ever wonder why Mourning Dove wings make a sound?  I have and this is my theory.), and flee.
5:27pm   Doorstep is warming herself before going to roost while Friend watches over her from a wire above.  She gives me a bob of her head, takes to the air, with Friend following close behind.  They make their way to their roost of this evening.  Friend  is always very protective of Doorstep, particularly since her injury from a suspected accipter two years ago.
Donegal Browne