Chickadees Tweet About Themselves

Apr 28, 2010 By Martha Heil
A black-capped chickadee. Credit: wdfw.wa.gov / Kelly McAllister

A short tweet from a chickadee can tell other birds their sex, species and geographic location, according to new research.

Chickadees are talkative little birds, with several different calls encoding meanings from indicating the presence of a predator to more complex expressions that express triumph or attraction. Different species of birds may join their flock because have a distinct call to indicate a source of food.

Their long call is sounded as "chick-a-dee-dee", and has multiple meanings, but the meaning of their shorter sound -- a "tseet" -- was until recently a mystery to the researchers studying the small .

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Listen To Tseet

Researchers from the University of Alberta in Edmonton found that the "tseet" call is like a vocal identity badge that uses different tones and decibel levels within the call to identify the sex, species and location of the bird. They studied mountain chickadees, found throughout the Rocky Mountains, and black-capped chickadees, which live primarily in the deciduous northern areas of the northern United States and Canada. The researchers found that each can decode the calls of the other species. However, it may not be easy for them to detect the opposite species’ sex from the call alone.

The research that broke the bird's short tseet down into nine different sound characteristics -- of which only seven were used by the birds to identify themselves -- was reported in the .

The researchers' next step is to slightly change the bird's songs, manipulating the individual acoustic features within the tseet call to help determine how the vocal ID badges are constructed.

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User comments : 3

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Nemo
not rated yet Apr 28, 2010
Dr. Dolittle would be proud.
gideon
5 / 5 (1) Apr 29, 2010
Of course their tweets are compact and full of info, they're limited to 140 characters at a time.
xstos
not rated yet Apr 29, 2010
loool

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