Why Are All Those Chickadees, Nuthatches, and Kinglets Hanging Out?

As colder weather sets in, some small birds form mixed flocks to increase their chances of survival.

This audio story is brought to you by BirdNote, a partner of the National Audubon Society. BirdNote episodes air daily on public radio stations nationwide.

This is BirdNote!

As you stand in the autumn woods, a Red-breasted Nuthatch calls while it hangs upside down on a pine cone, deftly removing the fat-rich seeds. Nearby, several Black-capped Chickadees inspect leaves and twigs for small insects or cocoons. A chattering Ruby-crowned Kinglet hovers at a branch tip. And a petite Downy Woodpecker whinnies. And they are all close at hand.

This noisy flurry of small birds is a mixed-species flock, foraging and moving together in fall and winter. With the nesting season past, some small birds join forces. These loose associations can include a dozen species and more than fifty individuals. More watchful eyes mean better detection of predators, allowing each bird to spend more time feeding. And more individuals searching improve the odds that a rich feeding area will be found.

In much of North America, Black-capped Chickadees lead in forming such flocks, and – should a hawk be sighted – whistle an alarm call that the other species understand.

If you’d like to learn more about the birds in your area, begin with a visit to our website, birdnote.org.  I’m Mary McCann.



Bird calls provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. 

Black-capped Chickadee recorded by R.S. Little; Red-breasted Nuthatch by W.L. Hershberger; Downy Woodpecker by W.W.H. Gunn; Black-capped Chickadee mobbing call by R.C. Stein.

Producer: John Kessler

Executive Producer: Chris Peterson

© 2013 Tune In to Nature.org   November 2018  Narrator: Mary McCann