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 .

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
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.

Explore further: Bats use both sides of brain to listen—just like humans

Related Stories

Bird Calls May Have Meaning

Nov 09, 2005

A deep-voiced black-capped chickadee may wonder why other birds ignore it, but there may be a good reason behind the snub, says a University of Alberta study that looked into how the bird responds to calls.

Migrating songbirds learn survival tips on the fly

Jun 25, 2008

Migrating songbirds take their survival cues from local winged residents when flying through unfamiliar territory, a new Queen's University-led study shows. It's a case of "When in Rome, do as the Romans do," ...

Birds Call to Warn Friends and Enemies

Dec 03, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Birds' alarm calls serve both to alert other birds to danger and to warn off predators. And some birds can pull a ventriloquist's trick, singing from the side of their mouths, according to a UC Davis study.

It takes two to tutor a sparrow

Oct 21, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- It may take a village to raise a child, and apparently it takes at least two adult birds to teach a young song sparrow how and what to sing.

European birds flock to warming Britain

Jul 30, 2008

Researchers at Durham, the RSPB and Cambridge University have found that birds such as the Cirl Bunting and Dartford Warbler are becoming more common across a wide range of habitats in Britain as temperatures rise.

Recommended for you

Bats use both sides of brain to listen—just like humans

2 minutes ago

Researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center and American University have shown that, like humans, mustached bats use the left and right sides of their brains to process different aspects of sounds. ...

Research shows impact of BMR on brain size in fish

Apr 24, 2015

A commonly used term to describe nutritional needs and energy expenditure in humans – basal metabolic rate – could also be used to give insight into brain size of ocean fish, according to new research by Dr Teresa Iglesias ...

Why do animals fight members of other species?

Apr 23, 2015

Why do animals fight with members of other species? A nine-year study by UCLA biologists says the reason often has to do with "obtaining priority access to females" in the area.

Dolphins use extra energy to communicate in noisy waters

Apr 23, 2015

Dolphins that raise their voices to be heard in noisy environments expend extra energy in doing so, according to new research that for the first time measures the biological costs to marine mammals of trying ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

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

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.