Sunday, October 7, 2012

A chickadee gathers seeds on an early autumn afternoon...

...cool temps and a gentle breeze seemed to push me down the Little Miami Trail this afternoon, and I was thankful to be out under the towering sycamores and old oaks and buckeyes once again. Confetti yellow leaves were starting to fall in celebration of the new season, but mostly green was holding on in a stubborn (and futile) attempt to stall autumn. Chickadees were hard at work everywhere gleaning twigs and leaves for insects to eat, but they were also looking for seeds to add to their winter food caches for the long winter ahead...

A Carolina Chickadee gleaning insects from brush along the Little Miami Trail (as summer slowly melts into fall).
A Carolina Chickadee was busy gleaning insects from brush along the trail. He was also plucking seeds from the spent flower heads. Now and then he would fly off, no doubt to hide the seeds in one of his winter food caches.  

Click here for an older post called "Titmice and chickadees cache food for winter survival" to read more about this unique ability. Chickadees have larger spatial memories than non-caching birds, and the extra brain cells (which become more numerous during the autumn) help them keep track of the seeds they hide. For an article from Lehigh University that explains how this works in a little more detail, click here. In the article, Colin Saldanha talks about how the bird's hippocampus expands by about 30% in autumn due to the creation of new nerve cells. In the spring, the chickadee's hippocampus returns to normal size.

Chickadees work hard in autumn to gather and store seeds and nuts for winter food caches to help them survive the long, cold winter.
Chickadees work hard in autumn to gather and store seeds and nuts in winter food caches to help them survive the long, cold, and grey (yikes!) winter. White-breasted Nuthatches, Blue Jays, and Tufted Titmice also stash food for the winter. 
Green is still king along the Little Miami Trail, but it better get ready to abdicate the throne, because yellow, gold, and red are ready to take over!

22 comments:

Roy said...

Great shots, Kelly! I wish some of them would visit my feeder station; there are plenty of seeds here for them. Unfortunately I think the House Sparrows scare away smaller birds.

Kerri said...

Seeing (and hearing) a bunch of these little guys in my area.
Great captures.

Montanagirl said...

Super shots of the Chickadee. I've had a few here too. I'll be really busy for about a week - so I won't be posting or commenting. Don't give up on me, I'll be back.

TexWisGirl said...

beautiful shots of these sweet little things. interesting about the brain expansion and then shrinkage in spring.

Lynette said...

Sweet little birds. I'm going to look closely at the ones who will show up later outside my work window, dining on the sweet gum balls once the leaves are gone. The leaves are all still green, so it will be a while. Thanks for the reminder to pay attention. Unfortunately, the window is tinted and photos don't do well.

Carol Mattingly said...

The light is so beautiful in these images Kelly. Carol

NCmountainwoman said...

Beautiful photographs of one of my favorite birds. Ours are working hard as well. Busy, busy, busy.

Wind Dance said...

Your pictures are always wonderful, and I enjoy stopping by.

Lois Evensen said...

Beautiful little creatures. Your images are always wonderful. Thank you.

Ana Mínguez Corella said...

Lovely litte bird.. Cheers!!!..

Chris said...

Wonderful set of pictures Kelly. I guess they are trying to prepare themselves to the bad motnhs coming. I've cited your blog on my last message and would really love to have comments from you on this one ;-)

Roy said...

The Chickadee is striking little bird Kelly and really show up in the sunlight. Yes Autumn is really setting in now over here as well.

Laure Ferlita said...

So glad to see you out enjoying the last of the green! Love the shots of the sweet little chickadee!

Valerie said...

So interesting. I never knew (or thought about) that before. I see chickadees constantly diving in and out all day long. I love the green behind the bird. So very pretty.

Guy said...

Hi Kelly

The photos are perfect I love how you picked the bird out of the foliage. I had read about the changes in their brains/memory amazing considering they are so small, adaption can be a marvelous thing.

Guy

Gillian Olson said...

The chickadees are such little charmers.

PhotoLeoGrapher said...

Beautiful! Congrats!

Janice K said...

How interesting. I know they were very busy at our feeders, but I didn't realize they stored food for winter.

I have always marveled at how they seem to know when a storm is coming and are very busy at the feeders prior to its arrival.

SolomonG said...

Great insight to the life of chickadees, I'm going to repost this on my twitter if you don't mind...

Kelly said...

...thank you for the lovely comments! This little birds was every bit as industrious as he was cute! Hard-working and sweet sounding, he was fun to watch.

(Solomon--thank you for tweeting this post out. I always appreciate tweets!!)

trekohio.com said...

I loved your photos of this cute little bird. This was also the first time that I had heard about the hippocampus expanding in size each autumn, then shrinking in the spring. I understand that the bird doesn't need to remember seed caches in the spring, but there must be a disadvantage to having a larger hippocampus for it to keep changing sizes. Maybe it requires more calories than its worth then? Anyway really interesting.

I've noticed other birds that appear to engage in the same seed caching behavior at my bird feeder. Right now red-breasted nuthatches seem to be doing that. I wonder if they also have this change in brain size.

Deb

Kat Griffin said...

very cool , Kelly ! wonderful son that you have there! I have been busy packing and moving my son Joe to Cedar Rapids this month ! Glad it is all done and now I have to rest my bones !

-KAT-