I am at work on a longer post, and meanwhile am re-posting some early posts from my starter blog, on Delphi. This is from August of 2006.
And a dee-dee-dee to you, too!
My little garden plot, closed in as it is, surrounded by low hedges, overshadowed by high cedars, with its handkerchief of lawn and a bit of bare cultivated soil, rich in worms, seems to be a bird magnet. I help it along with the homemade feeder, always full of black sunflower seeds, and a bowl of water for bathing.
So I've seen house finches, robins, sparrows, twohees and juncos, more or less on a regular basis. Off and on, a varied thrush will drop in, or a nuthatch on his way through town. Sometimes a flock of starlings will stop by to check out the lawn. A pair of Steller's jays visited several times this spring.
But always, always, there are the chickadees, winter, summer and in-between. This year, a pair nested in the cedars right in front, and raised a brood of four rackety youngsters, who have more or less declared the bird bath and rhododendron their private territory, and chase away the house finches with great chatterings and shoutings of "Dee-dee-dee" any time they come near.
Sitting outside at the end of the summer days, or watching through the bedroom window, I have been able to see these youngsters grow up, from the moment the first one huddled in the rain on a maple branch while a parent painstakingly showed him how to husk a sunflower seed, then stuffed it into his gaping mouth and went back for another. Within a couple of days, the four of them were on the maple, and both parents working full time at the husking and feeding. Then they were trying their own landing skills on the perches of the feeder, falling off with great flappings and dee-deeings as often as not.
Now, at the end of the summer, the "kids" are teen-agers, completely independent of their parents, noisy, curious and always hungry. They have pulled the coconut fiber from a hanging flower basket; they peck at my screens and the rubber handles on the bicycle. And they have learned the trick of banging on the feeder when it is empty, so that I am wakened early in the morning by their tap-tap-tapping and eventually have to get up and feed them.
And they talk; all the time, as youngsters do. Dee-dee-dee, dee-dee-dee, dee-dee-dee-dee. Quietly, almost to themselves at times; shouting over differences of opinion as to whose turn it is at the feeder at others. When I step outside, they set up an excited chorus; "Chickadee dee dee dee!"
We were sitting outside after supper last week, enjoying the cool of the evening. We two, and the whole family of chickadees. One of the kids, under the shrubbery said, "Wiki". "Wiki". Not "Dee-dee-dee". He repeated it, at intervals, trying it out. "Wiki... wiki... wiki..." Odd, I thought; I didn't know chickadees said that.
The next evening, a kid in the maple tree made a curious call, a repeated tone, "Beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep." Once, then again. I listened carefully, and heard it again, a half-note lower. But it was now behind me, across the fence. It took a few seconds before I realized that this time I was hearing the neighbour's phone ringing. The chickadee had been copying it.
Again, I didn't know chickadees imitated other sounds. Oh, I know birds learn their language just as we do, even to the extent of having regional dialects. But -- chickadees? -- copying phones? That was for mocking birds and parrots and starlings.
This week, one of the youngsters -- the same one? I don't know -- said, "Cheer up!" Like the robin, only a bit reedier. "Cheer up!"
I wonder; who said "Wiki" first?
Chickadees are fascinating birds. In addition to a large behavioral repertoire (including the use of a bewildering variety of sounds) they are permanent residents over their entire range, form long-lasting pair bonds, have an interesting family life, and thrive in close proximity to human development. All you need is a few sunflower seeds and you can have your own flock of chickadees to observe.
I never knew...
Update: Today I heard the gargle mentioned by the author of the quote above. And one of the young ones was saying, "Too -whit". Like a towhee, only faster and chirpier.