Perk up your ears! Romance is for the birds.
|Black-capped Chickadees sing a clear, whistled “hey, sweetie!” Photo © Marie Read, from Into the Nest|
People up here have been telling me how much they’re noticing Black-capped Chickadees singing away, their clear, whistled Hey, sweetie! song warming up even the most frigid February mornings. Chickadees are the original Norwegian bachelor farmers. It takes a lot of singing and increasing day length to get their hormones pumped up enough that each male can overcome his inhibitions to get close enough to one female chickadee to do what birds and bees and educated fleas must do at least once a year.
Like true Minnesotan homesteaders, chickadees focus on the practical matter of excavating a cavity and nest building, rather than more frivolous courtship activities. No chickadee in his right mind would even consider performing some silly romantic dance to attract a mate. No, they limit their romantic gestures to that simple, forthright little Hey, sweetie! song, as the hardworking Pa Ingalls of the Little House books expressed his romantic nature with his fiddle. And even though their singing is on the rise right now, Black-capped Chickadees won’t settle in and consummate their little pairings until April or even May.
|The courting male Great Horned Owl approaches the female with his white bib feathers fluffed out, bowing and bobbing his tail and extending his wings. He calls to her from potential nest sites, and she calls back. Photo © Jen Joynt, from Into the Nest|
Unlike chickadees, Great Horned Owls aren’t much into carpentry or home building projects. Up here they usually take over a large stick nest built by other birds such as Red-tailed Hawks. Owls regurgitate a pellet of felted fur and bones about once a day. This is entirely different from their droppings. They often allow these pellets, and feathers of avian prey, to accumulate on and soften the nest floor. They may make other minor modifications to a nest, but most Great Horned Owl pairs would never attempt even the easiest home improvement projects.
Great Horned Owls start producing eggs as early as late November in Florida, but in the more frigid reaches of their range, they hold off until mid-winter. In Alberta, they may produce their first eggs in late January. In Michigan, first eggs are laid beginning around Valentine’s Day. So this is the right time to get out at night listening for them. To our ears, their hoots can sound eerie or thrilling. To them, they’re romantic expressions of lasting commitment.
Laura Erickson is the co-author of Into the Nest and the author of seven bird books, including Storey’s The Bird Watching Answer Book. She has served as an editor of Bird Scope magazine and a columnist and contributing editor for Birdwatching magazine and she contributed editorial content for the All About Birds website. She also writes and produces a daily radio segment about birds. She lives in Duluth, Minnesota.