Friday, April 25, 2008

Carolina Chickadee

The Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest already knew that the sanctuary in Four Holes Swamp provides some of the densest songbird nesting for its type of habitat, but this year we've found more nests along the boardwalk than in any year in the past. Yesteday, while leading a group of second graders from Knightsville Elementary School, we spotted a Carolina Chickadee (Peocile carolinensis) chick out of its nest and hanging onto some Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides) for dear life (literally!).

Chickadees are cavity nesters with this pair selecting the site of a former limb that has likely rotted into the trunk of the tree. Previously, we noted a pair of Carolina Chickadees that had nested in an old woodpecker cavity. That nest appears to be dead, possibly the result of a Greenish Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta x quadrivittata) visit.

Not all of the images of the latest chickadee nest are in focus. The parents don't visit the nest as often as one might think and when they arrive, they don't spend much time exposing the nest's location. The chicks are ready for the arriving parent as the parent gives an alert call. One of the chicks appeared to get more than its share of the arriving meals by jutting its head far outside the cavity and presenting a maw that was hard to miss. The parents bring a mix of seeds, fruit, and insects as meals for their rapidly-growing chicks. The adult pair stay together throughout the year.

The Carolina Chickadee's range extends from the panhandle of Oklahoma through the middle of Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio on to Maryland and south to the Gulf Coast and central Florida. The similar Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) ranges farther north and west. Where the ranges meet, there is hybridization of the two species.

Images by Mark Musselman

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