March 7, 2012

Bird Guilds


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A sprinkling of March snow doesn't sully the spring bird sounds from the woods. During a walk on a March morning it is not uncommon to stop to watch an active chickadee darting from branch to branch, quibbling quietly to its friend, while picking off small seeds from catkins and generally animating the winter life of the woods. In pausing to watch this small charmer one may suddenly notice that the noise is not just coming from the chickadee but also a pair of Tufted titmouse. And in giving pause to watch this two grey haired duo you may see a single Downy woodpecker working its way up the trunk of a bare oak tree, then the bleating, nasal sound of a White-breasted nuthatch joins the fray. “What am I witnessing?” some storm cloud of birds all around me? Winter songbirds including: chickadees, titmice, woodpeckers, kinglets, creepers, nuthatch, blue jays, cardinals, and wrens may travel the woods in loose bands or mixed species flocks. What is known locally, if not scientifically, as a bird guild or a group of mixed species that feed together. Theories on this type of behavior include the safety of many watchful eyes is better than one, the fact that where one bird is eating equates to food for others, as well more complex theories of food dispersal by on species that benefits another. Climatic factors  may also come into play as these groups are often found in opening with southern exposure, out of the wind and catching all that new spring sun. Watch chickadees or blue jays in the woods and spend a few minutes searching for other species in the area. 

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is an educator, bird watcher, and writer fascinated by the intersections of place, people, nature, and culture. He works for Mass Audubon and lives in the heart of Massachusetts. For questions or comments please contact: alexanderjosephdunn@gmail.com

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