Bird Watcher's General Store

Chickadees Sing With Snowcover - 03/16/01


Dear Bird Folks,

For the past few weeks I've been hearing the chickadees singing their springtime "fee bee" song. I have always assumed that this song was some kind of spring mating call, but where I live, there is 3 feet of snow on the ground. Why would chickadees be mating during a snowy March?

- Jill, Northboro

Hey Jill,

Does anybody tell you when it's time to mate? Birds don't rely on the calendar, the weather or advice from Dr. Ruth to know when it is time to nest. They are governed by the length of daylight. Increased hours of sunlight trigger the release or hormones in a bird's body and that causes the onset of courtship and nesting behavior, much like perfume on the cover of Cosmo sparks the nesting urges in some humans.

But you are partly right, Jill, it is too early for chickadees to mate and sit on eggs. The "fee bee" call that you are hearing is probably not a mating call, but a male chickadee advertising its territory to other males. For the next few weeks a pair chickadees will investigate many nest sites within their territory. They may even work really hard on building a couple of nests before the time is right for them to mate and settle in. This usually happens in April when the weather is better and food is more available. Don't worry about them nesting too early. Even if you were to shovel away all 3 feet of snow and take a blow dryer to your entire yard, the chickadees aren't going to start laying eggs until their instincts tell them that the time is right. Birds are very much regulated, they don't mate on impulse. Now if we could only get the college students on spring break to behave like that.



Artwork by Catherine Clark


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