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Carolina Chickadee or Black-capped Chickadee?

Due to climate change, the range of the Black-capped Chickadee and Carolina Chickadee overlap.

I was uncertain about the identification of this bird, so I uploaded the image to ChatGPT, requesting identification.

Me: Please identify the bird in this photograph. Please describe the scene.
ChatGPT: This is a photograph of a Carolina Chickadee, identifiable by its black cap and bib, white cheeks, and soft grey back, wings, and tail. It is perched on a bare branch amidst a network of similar branches against a pale blue sky, likely in a deciduous woodland during the non-breeding season when trees are leafless.

For verification, I uploaded the same image to the Merlin ID app. Merlin also identified this bird as a Carolina Chickadee. However, after additional reading on All About Birds, I learned that this individual could be a Carolina or Black-capped Chickadee. They are very similar in colouring, and identification can be challenging. The calls of the Black-capped Chickadee are different from the Carolina Chickadee. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the presence of mind to use the Merlin app for an audio identification.

However, Merlin ID mentioned a 2014 study by Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Villanova University, and Cornell University that indicates that the hybrid zone between Black-capped and Carolina Chickadees is shifting northward in alignment with rising winter temperatures.

This is the first time I have heard and photographed a Chickadee. I heard this individual's distinctive call when I was outside, about to leave on a short walk. The bird was in a tall tree in the small wooded area between two streets near my home. Despite the challenges of backlighting, I enhanced some of its features using Adobe Lightroom, drawing out the finer details that aided in its accurate identification.

Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) · 30 December 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

Surveying the surroundings

The bird is likely a type of finch or sparrow.

Merlin ID app identified this individual as a female house finch. Female House Finches have streaked brown and white plumage, which provides camouflage among the branches and leaves. They lack the red colouring that male House Finches display.

Her soft, earthy tones express her role in the finch family, not the flashy singer commanding attention but the diligent creator of the nest and nurturer of her young.

House Finches, Carpodacus mexicanus, are small, social birds well-adapted to human environments. The females, measuring 5 to 6 inches long, are predominantly brown with crisp, streaked patterns across their back, chest, and sides. Their solid and conical beaks are adapted to their seed-based diet. They will also consume fruits and insects when available, especially during breeding.

These birds are known for their vigorous singing, and the females' more subtle vocalisations often go unnoticed. Yet, her role is critical. She is the primary nest builder, weaving together twigs, grasses, and feathers to create a haven for her eggs, usually in the nooks of buildings or other artificial structures, a nod to their comfort in urban settings.

Originally from the western United States and Mexico, House Finches have expanded their range to cover the entire country, thriving in various habitats. Their conservation status is of "Least Concern," reflecting their successful adaptation and resilience.

Juniper Berry Banquet

Overlooked commonplace backyard residents feasting on juniper

As Spring sweeps in New Jersey, my enthusiasm for photography rises. I especially enjoy photographing tropical migratory birds like Warblers. These vibrant coloured tourists travel from Costa Rica and the Caribbean to the woodlands of New Jersey, offering a photographic buffet.

In my quest to photograph these elusive tropical birds, I've often overlooked the more quotidian birds that are easier to find in New Jersey. This happens due to familiarity, where I become so accustomed to seeing or experiencing something that I no longer actively notice it. It's a common psychological phenomenon associated with the concept of 'inattentional blindness', where our focus on distinctive aspects of our environment leads us to overlook others, even if they are obvious or familiar. This tendency to overlook the familiar is a common human challenge, as it can lead to missing out on the beauty and importance of everyday experiences or subjects.

The juniper trees in my backyard, predating the construction of our home 20 years ago, only grabbed my attention recently. One morning, the energetic chirping of birds drew my eye to the branches. I could see many birds hopping between the branches and flying between the Juniper and the woodland beyond the fence line. Peeking through my XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR telephoto lens, I was captivated, seeing various types of birds feasting on the berries.

That morning, I observed not only the American Robin but also Bluebirds, Juncos, and Sparrows. However, the American Robin stood out with its round body, long legs, and striking orange chest. There were far more of them than any other type of bird. Their melodic song filled the early morning in our backyard, providing a delightful soundtrack to my birdwatching.

The adaptability of the American Robin is impressive. They flourish even in suburban settings like Montgomery Township. They often nest along the roof near the bends in our home's water drains.

With their regular diet of earthworms and insects dwindling, the American Robin shifts to fruits and berries during the late Autumn and Winter months. Juniper berries and other backyard offerings like holly and dogwood are essential to their diet. These become critical for their survival and energy, particularly those gearing up for their migratory travels.

In this shift of seasons, there's a lesson in adaptability and resilience from these winged beauties.