In November, Emil and Ru flew off to wild rose country to snoop around the social lives of black-capped chickadees, in collaboration with Prof. Kim Mathot’s research group at the University of Alberta. This research is part of Ru’s MSc and Emil’s PhD projects.
Here’s a short account of their trip, written by Ru Ratnayake:
The forests surrounding the U of A botanic garden were magnificent in the winter. Most mornings we would spot blue jays, nuthatches, chickadees, woodpeckers, or waxwings the moment we stepped into the forest. In a few days, Kim and Jan had us fully trained on setting up mist nets, handling chickadees, and banding them. Captured chickadees were fitted with a unique passive-integrated transponder (PIT) that allows us to detect each tagged bird as it visits the seed feeders at the site.
Holding the nearly 12 g birds was a magical feeling. Emil would go on to say, “I felt like a Disney princess”. Unfortunately, this moment was understandably less magical for the chickadees, who relentlessly pecked at our fingers as we took measurements and fitted bands.
Emil and I also set up cameras at each feeder so we could covertly observe social interactions. The cameras recorded over an hour of footage per feeder, despite the frigid temperatures drastically reducing their battery life. Each video was full of interactions, and it was fascinating to see the way chickadees lined up at the feeder for a seed. Rude nuthatches would cut said lines and we captured many chases between birds. My favourite moment? Whenever a plump chickadee (I call him Gus gus) refused to take a seed and leave, and would hold up the line while casually eating seeds before getting ousted.
We are super grateful to Roz, Kim and Jan for this research trip and its experiences, the skills we developed, and the opportunity to see where the data in our projects come from. And we can’t wait to see what our data reveals about the learning and social behaviour of this chickadee community.
Photos by Ru Ratnayake