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; there was a sharp drop in song and activity. I then could hear a chickadee singing 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).

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!

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