Singing in the rain

No no no, not Gene Kelly…though it is a great movie.  Donald O’Connor is fantastic in it, too.  After you learn about birds, go watch it.  Anyway, the singing to which I’m referring is coming from some little birds who have been incredibly vocal in the past couple of days as the morning temperatures dropped and the rains came in.  It’s those same Carolina Chickadees, again.  Yesterday, it was just a chilly morning and they were really vocal throughout the day.  In the mid-afternoon, the rains came in and on my walk home (in the rain), the chickadees were ‘fee-bay’ ing away.  Even this morning, while the skies were dumping water everywhere, the chickadees were singing away.

That observation made me wonder…why are they so active?  Now, as I thought about this question, I realized something:  my perception of their activity is potentially different than their actual activity.  What is a bird doing if he’s singing?  Well, he’s not moving.  What is a bird doing if he’s not singing?  Well, at that point, he’s got something else to do- which probably involves foraging.

Chickadees, being tiny little birds, may be more susceptible to changes in the environment and so reduce the amount of time they spend foraging when temperatures drop or when they run the risk of getting too cold in the rain.  People have noticed a change in the amount of time these birds spend foraging when temperatures drop and when wind speeds go up.

Grubb, T.C., Jr.  1978.  Weather-dependent foraging rates of wintering woodland birds. Auk 95:  370-376

Now, since foraging in these little chickadees is so sensitive to the weather conditions, they’ve got two choices.  1.  Sit around and watch Oprah or 2.  Make the most of their time.  It’s not so cold and rainy that they’re forced into inactivity, but a bird who remains perched (with feathers protecting it) has a much easier time thermoregulating than one who is continually flying around.  So, while foraging might be physiologically challenging in this weather, there’s no point to wasting a good day.  Sing away!

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About thomasbiology

I'm an Associate Professor of Biology at Queens University of Charlotte with a background in animal behavior with an emphasis in bird song. I've got two secret goals with this blog (well, since I'm sharing them, they're not so secret): 1. To encourage people to look at the natural world around them- not just as a hiking destination, but to notice all the little things moving around them all the time; and 2. To show some of the science that relates to these little things moving around. There's some really fascinating research out there that so few people get to see.
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