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Fearless Chickadees


Dear Bird Folks,

I’ve always wondered why chickadees are so much more fearless than titmice. Chickadees and titmice share the same conditions, so what would explain what seems to be different levels of timorousness?”
– Brent, Wellfleet


Hey Brent,

Timorousness? Huh? Take it easy on me, will ya. Please limit your words to four, no, better make that five letters. The answer is twofold. First, the black-capped chickadee is the state bird of Massachusetts. By law the chickadee is required to be the friendliest bird in the Commonwealth. Secondly, look at the eyes of a tufted titmouse. It always looks like it’s in a state of shock. Like it just received its draft notice or found out, for the first time, that it has to live with that silly sounding name.

When you think about it, most birds are rather leery. The only other birds that I know of that aren’t timid besides the chickadee, are hummingbirds and the pigeons on the Boston Common. Even birds that we think of as bold, like blue jays and crows, take off when we approach them. Being timid has worked well for most birds and they aren’t about to change. And even though the black-capped chickadee and the tufted titmouse hang out together around Cape Cod, that has not usually been the case. In fact, the tufted titmouse is basically a southern bird and just in the last 40 years or so has moved north into the black-capped territory.

Natural selection is random and not all of it can be easily explained, it just happens. The chickadees have evolved into being friendly and they have thrived, but they are exceptions, not all friendly animals have been as successful. Creatures like river otters, prairie dogs and E.T. have not done nearly as well as the chickadee. And I think that it is better that way. Having a skunk run across the yard to greet you every time you came home from work would get old real quick.