A Song for July 31

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At first glance, these birds sound like other chickadees, so I will discuss the special features of their vocalizations below. They look like chickadees, too, and they are. It is their biogeography that is special. The Gray-headed Chickadee, known as the Siberian Tit or Lappmeise in Europe, is the only species in the entire family Paridae that occurs naturally in both the Old and New Worlds. They occur in the northermost trees on both continents. I did not find them in birches around Nikkaluokta, Sweden, but did find them three days in a row in different mixed forests that included pine. These forest seemed like standard chickadee habitat, rather than the stunted woodlands they are said to occupy in Alaska. In fact, these birds are quite common in parts of Europe, but very hard to find in North America. And if you look at the small part of North America that is inhabited, versus the vastness of the Eurasian taiga, you would naturally assume, as both Europeans and Americans formerly did, that this species is a recent arrival in North America. In fact, it evolved here. It is closely related to the Boreal and Chestnut-backed Chickadees, and is more closely related to the four other species of North American chickadee than to any Eurasian ones. With that kind of pedigree, we infer that it evolved here and moved there.

The three recordings here were made as I followed a flock of at least four of these birds through the pines on a bluff overlooking the Kalix River. I wouldn't be surprised if they were all juveniles. Chickadees disperse a few weeks after leaving the nest and form roving flocks with others of their age group. By fall they have integrated into local flocks of adults to whom they are not related. These birds showed the same inquisitiveness and loquaciousness that I have often observed in late summer flocks of Mountain Chickadees. All of their sounds are classifiable to the chick-a-dee system or the gargle system, which all other chickadee species also have. The D notes with parallel lines are standard, those with more dynamic shapes are specialties of this species. The top cut begins with some of these unusual sounds. The second cut begins with a standard chick-a-dee call. The bottom cut begins with a gargle. Not shown are some other sounds that they use for dawn-singing. Jack Hailman and Svein Haftorn wrote that they use just about everything in the repertoire for dawn-singing, unlike several other species of chickadee. Carolina Chickadees, however, do exactly the same thing.

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Nathan D. Pieplow. 2017. Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds of Eastern North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Nathan D. Pieplow. 2019. Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds of Western North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Donald Kroodsma. 2005. The Singing Life of Birds. Houghton Mifflin.