While visiting my new favourite property, I heard the sound of a predator being mobbed. It’s a very distinctive sound, the sound of a dozen chickadees going absolutely crazy. Chickadees are big talkers in general, usually keeping up a running chatter amongst themselves when they’re foraging. But when one stumbles onto a predator, they ramp it up a notch. In this case, the dozen chickadees were joined in by a few nuthatches, who lended a higher-pitched version of their regular nasal eenh to the cacophony.
Almost invariably when you hear that, the little songbirds have discovered themselves an owl. Owls have to roost during the day, since most are primarily nocturnal hunters, and generally try to find a spot that’s sheltered and hidden from view. During the winter, when the deciduous trees have lost most of their leaves, they usually choose conifers. By following the racket I was able to locate this individual, a Northern Saw-whet Owl, sitting in a white pine, doing her best to try to remain unperturbed by the alarm-callers. Indeed, she showed the most concern with the dog, who, oblivious of the spectacle going on above, dashed under the tree. Even that only warranted barely more than a glance. Eventually the chickadees moved out to carry on with their lives, feeling assured that they’d let that owl know its place, and Raven and I moved out to head home, leaving the owl in peace.
So the moral of the story here is, if you hear a flock of chickadees really kicking up a fuss, go check it out, they’ve probably found something good.