Seed time

Chickadees are fun to watch, but difficult to photograph.

The birds are in constant motion, clinging to plant stems or trees — sometimes right-side up, sometimes upside down — in their never-ending search for food.

I found this chickadee, the subject of my photo of the week, bouncing from plant to plant at the edge of a forest in Sharon Woods Metro Park, north of Columbus, Ohio, on a late November morning. I grabbed about a dozen shots showing the bird in different positions but this is my favorite from the group.

I like the bird’s position, hanging upside down from the stem. It is holding a seed in its beak while it looks at other potential sources of food nearby. The bird’s details — black head with white trim — pop against the warm brown fall background. 

The photo does a good job conveying the behavior and personality of a bird that nature websites almost always refer to as “cute.” 

That’s a nice description of a bird with such a funny name.

As I’ve said in the past, I remember as a very young kid running through the neighborhood with a bunch of other kids all repeating the line, “my little chickadee.” I guess someone in the group had seen W.C. Fields on TV. Fields first used the catchphrase in a 1932 movie, “If I Had A Million,” and later starred in a 1940 movie called “My Little Chickadee.” He often repeated the phrase.

The phrase “my little chickadee” was so much fun to say that it was a natural for little kids like us to adopt it for our own.

I doubt if anyone in the group had a clue what a chickadee was or if anyone in the group had even seen one. We were probably about four or five years old.

I’ve now seen — and photographed — plenty of chickadees. As funny as the name is (it is thought to have come from its call, which sounds somewhat like “chick-a-dee”), the birds are even more fun to watch.

They are always active in their search for food, often hanging upside down from leaves or tree limbs to access seeds, berries or insects. They are also very curious, investigating anything they find in their home area. I’ve had chickadees land on my camera lens to see what I’m doing. Their curiosity means that chickadees are often the first birds to discover new feeders in the area.

I’m assuming this is a Black-capped Chickadee, the most common chickadee in Central Ohio, but I could be wrong. Central Ohio is in the overlap area for the southern border of the Black-capped Chickadee’s range and the northern edge of the range for the nearly identical Carolina Chickadee. Black-capped Chickadees have a bit more white wing-feather edging and shorter songs than the Carolina Chickadee, but it is very difficult to tell them apart.

When I looked up the differences between Black-capped and Carolina Chickadees on All About Birds (my favorite site for bird information) I discovered some interesting facts about chickadees: 

The Black-Capped Chickadee will hide seeds and other food items to eat later. Each item is placed in a different spot and the chickadee can remember thousands of hiding places.

Every autumn Black-capped Chickadees allow brain neurons containing old information to die, replacing them with new neurons so they can adapt to changes in their social flocks and environment even with their tiny brains.

Chickadee calls are complex and language-like, communicating information on identity and recognition of other flocks as well as predator alarms and contact calls. The more dee notes in a chickadee-dee-dee call, the higher the threat level.

Most birds that associate with chickadee flocks respond to chickadee alarm calls, even when their own species doesn’t have a similar alarm call.

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.

TECHNICAL INFORMATION

Date/time: Nov. 27, 2016, 10:45 a.m.  
Location: 40°6'49.614" N 82°57'18.942" W (Show in Google Maps) 
Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II  
Lens: Canon EF 600mm f/4L, Canon 1.4x teleconverter (840mm) 
Aperture: f/5.6  
Shutter: 1/1250th second
ISO: 1000