Al Batt: A chickadee’s song changes when in danger

Published 9:00 am Saturday, September 16, 2017

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Everything is nearly copacetic. I brought you a sweet watermelon. I got it from the neighbor’s garden. Don’t tell him. Remember when I went on that cruise you were leading?”

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“Of course, I do,” I say.

“I didn’t pack a nifty jacket for the formal dining. That was no problem. I wore a life jacket. People gave me such odd looks that I laughed so hard that coffee came out of nose. And I was drinking milk at the time.”


A small flock of barn swallows greeted me as I entered the clinic. They cheered me. Barn swallows sound as if they are having a wonderful time.

A chickadee called. Its song is a simple, whistled “fee-bee” or “hey, sweetie.” Its call is “chickadee-dee.” The call alerts group members to food or danger. It’s used in mobbing situations. Chickadees increase the numbers of dee notes when they’re alarmed. They also produce a gargled sound that many people hear as “cheeseburger.”

I heard distant thunder. All my life, I’ve been told to count the seconds between lightning and thunder to determine a storm’s distance from my location. “One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi.” So the storm is three miles away. Wrong. It takes roughly five seconds for the sound of thunder to travel one mile. If you see a flash of lightning and count 10 seconds until you hear the thunder, you need to divide by five to determine that this storm is roughly two miles away. Typically, thunder can be heard up to 10 miles away. Since light travels at 186,000 miles per second, we see the lightning the instant it flashes. Thunder travels about a mile in five seconds near the ground.

The robin crop in my yard seemed down this year. I usually raise a bumper crop of robins each year. I blame it on the large number of trespassing cats. I don’t know who the felines belong to, but I don’t want them here.

Wildlife-related activities

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced a new report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that shows that 101.6 million Americans—40 percent of the U.S. population 16 years old and older—participated in wildlife-related activities, such as hunting, fishing, and wildlife-watching in 2016. The survey shows that the most substantial increases in participation involve wildlife watching and photographing wildlife. The report indicates these activities surged 20 percent from 2011 to 2016, from 71.8 million to 86 million participants during that time. The report indicates an 8 percent increase in fishing participation since 2011, from 33.1 million anglers to 35.8 million in 2016. Hunting participation dropped by about 2 million participants to 11.5 million.

DNR’s pheasant index

Loss of habitat has contributed to a 26 percent decline in Minnesota’s pheasant index compared to last year. The 2017 pheasant index is 32 percent below the 10-year average and 62 percent below the long-term average. Minnesota lost about 686,800 acres of Conservation Reserve Program acres statewide since 2007. This year’s statewide pheasant index was 38.1 birds per 100 miles of roads driven. Weather and habitat are the two main factors that drive pheasant populations. Observers drive routes in early morning and record the number and species of wildlife seen. The gray (Hungarian) partridge index decreased 63 percent from 2016 and was 60 percent below the 10-year average and 90 percent below the long-term average. The mourning dove index decreased 6 percent from 2016 and remained below the 10-year average and long-term averages. The cottontail rabbit index increased 8 percent from 2016 and was 45 percent above the 10-year average and 28 percent above the long-term average. The white-tailed jackrabbit index, while similar to last year, remained historically low. The white-tailed deer index was similar to 2016 and was 52 percent above the 10-year average and 137 percent above the long-term average.


“What does it mean when trees show the undersides of their leaves?” When leaves show their undersides, be very sure rain betides. When the leaves of the maples turn over to show their undersides, thunder and lightning will come soon. The leaves of deciduous trees often turn upward before a heavy rain. The leaves are reacting to an increase in humidity that usually precedes a storm. Leaves with soft stems can become limp in response to humidity, allowing the wind to flip them over.

“How long does a painted lady butterfly live?” The adult painted lady butterfly has a two-week lifespan. Its caterpillars feed upon thistles, composites (asters, daisies, sunflowers), hollyhock and mallow.

Thanks for stopping by

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” — Martin Luther

“The man who worries morning and night about dandelions in the lawn will find great relief in loving dandelions.” — L.H. Bailey

Do good.

Al Batt of Hartland is a member of the Albert Lea Audubon Society. Email him at