Monday, March 25, 2013

Black-capped Chickadees face off with song

One of the easiest bird songs to learn is the Black-capped Chickadee.  If you live in the northern Ohio, you’ve probably already heard their first spring songs.   It’s basically just two clear pitches repeated again and again.  The second pitch is usually a step (specifically a major 2nd) lower that the first pitch, and the song is quite easy to imitate.  Here’s the song of a Black-capped Chickadee singing at the Holden Arboretum in Lake County.  

When two male Chickadees need to establish territorial boundaries, they may sing the same two-note song back and forth at each other.   Listen to these two Black-capped Chickadees at South Chagrin Reservation in eastern Cuyahoga County.  You’ll also hear that one is closer to me than the other – at least for the moment.

What I find really interesting is that two male Black-capped Chickadees may actually sing back and forth with the second Chickadee singing a whole step below the first.  He takes the lower pitch of the first Chickadee’s song and begins his song on that pitch.  He then goes a step below that first Chickadee’s song. These two Black-capped Chickadees at the Case Western Reserve University Farm in eastern Cuyahoga County will demonstrate:

This is not uncommon at all – listen this spring and notice if you hear this pattern.   Be forewarned, however: the composite melody is sure to stay with you even after either you or the birds have moved on! 


  1. I was so tickled by this post. When I was a child I lived in the city. Every summer we went out to the farm to stay with my grandparents. I remember this bird call. My grandmother said it was the 'Pee Wee' bird. It wasn't until this post (many years after my farm summers)that I realized it was the song of the Black Capped Chickadee, one of my favorite birds! You have made my day! Thank you! Susan

  2. Thanks for sharing this information! I've been going crazy trying to figure out what bird has been making these sounds. The thing is, we often hear two notes followed by three of the same. Like a "high, medium, low low low" song. It's driving me crazy wondering what it is, and why it's doing it!

    1. Hi, Valerie,
      You might want to check out my recent post, "North to Can-a-da, Can-a-da, Can-a-da," which is about White-throated Sparrows. (Look for White-throated Sparrows in the index on the right sidebar.) Your written description looks like their songs, and April into early May is a good time to hear them. See what you think!