Non-locatable Alarm Calls

Did you know?

The other morning I had the kitchen window cracked and could hear plenty of birdsong and watched as birds excitedly flew about the yard. Suddenly, all went quiet; a sharp cut-off in song and activity. I then could hear a chickadee giving its high-pitched “see” alarm notes. These notes are often used when there’s a sudden and immediate threat nearby and the neat thing about their quality: the source cannot be traced; they are non-locatable! These calls have a frequency of about 7 kilohertz for almost all songbirds worldwide. This universal language allows non-related individuals and different species to recognize each other’s warnings (Runtz 2012). When these notes are heard followed by absolute silence, you best just go get your bins or camera because something’s paying your yard a visit and that something means business! 😉

While birding on Amherst Island about a month ago, a friend and I heard a chickadee giving these high-pitched “see” notes and glanced around to find a Northern Shrike buried deep in the tangles, giving chase!

003 (1024x484)

Photo: Adult Sharp-shinned Hawk photographed through our window and screen. It flew shortly after this photo was taken. SW Ottawa. February 2016.