The chickadee might be the first bird I ever learned by name—it’s that distinctive and, in most areas, common. You may or may not agree with me that it is the cutest songbird, but it’s hard to resist its distinctive calls, pert, exuberant manner, and curiosity.
Often I have heard a chickadee before I see it. The chicka-dee-dee-dee song is easy to pick out, and the whistling up-down call is too. Interesting about these two different modes: the first one, research has shown, is used to warn other chickadees about approaching predators (such as owls) or to coordinate with their nearby but unseen friends and family (sort of like a parent or teacher trying to keep track of a pack of kids on a hiking outing, maybe!). The sing-song whistle apparently is uttered mostly by males, and I always imagined it was a call to a real or longed-for mate, “Come…here…come…here.” There’s a fine recording at the Birds & Blooms species-profile page.
When I do spot one, or a few, I like to pause and watch their acrobatics. Not just while feeding, but also in flight. Typically the flight pattern is short, swinging bursts—it looks like fun!
The black-capped chickadee is the state bird of both Massachusetts, where I used to live, and Maine, but I see and hear plenty of them here in Upstate New York. Recently a birding friend up in the Adirondacks mentioned the boreal chickadee, common in the past up there but lately with diminishing numbers. Sadly, he said, it is probably habitat destruction—not by the usual suspects of development or sprawl or pollution, but by global warming. Boreal chickadees are evidently easy to find up in Canada, and make their way over the border into New York and Vermont but in the same or similar habitat, which is to say, boreal forests that are generally found at higher elevations. As the climate slowly but inexorably warms, that habitat is shrinking.