Nature Notes – Whistling chickadees sing ‘fee-bee’

Even on cold January mornings we sometimes hear the black-capped chickadees whistling “fee-bee” over and over in our neighborhoods.
This sound lifts our spirits and is considered one of the earliest spring signs. Some people even interpret the two-noted call as “spring-soon.”
This year I heard a chickadee singing “fee-bee” on Jan. 1. It is a matter of speculation whether the “fee-bee” call is the true song of the chickadee. It is heard most often in early spring, but we hear it throughout the winter also, many times on cold, cloudy days. We even hear chickadees whistling in the heat of summer and on crisp autumn days.
In a clear sweet whistle, the chickadee sounds two notes of equal length, the second tone lower in pitch than the first, making the whistled “fee-bee” sound. Frequently the second note has a slight waver in the middle as if the bird sang a “fee-beyee” rather than “fee-bee.”
Those who confuse this song of the black-capped chickadee with the well-enunciated but rather coarse “pheo-be” or “fi-bree” of the eastern phoebe might be interested to know that this call is not whistled like the “fee-bee” song of the chickadee.
Since the eastern phoebe is a summer resident, usually arriving in April and leaving in September, its song is only heard in the spring and summer.

What’s happening outdoors now?
We have gained 16 minutes of daylight, as of today, since the winter solstice on Dec. 21, our shortest daylight period of the year. A welcome gift!
White-tailed deer bucks continue to lose their antlers. Bald eagles hunt fish where open water is found.
Flocks of cedar waxwings and wintering American robins have been seen eating crabapples and other fruits. About a foot of ice covers Lake Waconia, where walleyes and crappies bite at night and sunfish during the day.
Try standing under a red oak tree and listening to the persistent still attached brown leaves rustling in the wind. The sound is that of a summer rainfall.

On Jan. 10 a year ago
It was 50 degrees F with very light south winds, under clear skies, in Waconia at 2:30 p.m. No snow covered the ground; many would say we had a brown landscape. There was shallow layer of water on top of ice-covered Lake Waconia. About 10 inches of ice covered Lake Minnetonka.
A record-breaking 52 degrees was recorded at the Twin Cities International Airport. Tennis and golf players enjoyed their games outdoors, while runners were out in shorts and T-shirts. Black-capped chickadees sang “fee-bee” again and again. The whistled “fee-bee” or “spring’s-here” fit this warm, sunny day perfectly. The first 10 days of January were the warmest for this period ever recorded in the Twin Cities.

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