Birds of a feather flock together, so the saying goes. But sometimes birds of many different feathers will flock together. Such was the case this past weekend during my hunt on private land near Rothrock State Forest, Trough Creek Division.

A Black capped chickadee sits on a big needled pine tree bough also covered in snow

Black capped chickadee

I’ve always thought it interesting to note how chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, and tufted titmice always seem to be together when foraging for food during late fall and winter. I also observe brown creepers, kinglets (usually golden crowned), and downy woodpeckers joining, as well, but typically in fewer numbers (often just one or two). All these species were present in the mixed feeding flock I saw last weekend.

A blue and white White breasted nuthatch perches in a tree with no leaves looking for a snack

White-breasted nuthatch

Several sources report that the relatively brazen and sharp-eyed chickadees assume the role of flock leaders, helping the foraging horde to find food while alerting others to the presence of predators. Ornithologists have reason to believe that the other accompanying species can recognize the chickadee’s alarm call, a quick series of extra “dees” at the end of the standard “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” sequence. The fact that each of the six species mentioned above feed in a similar manner by probing bark crevices, branch nodes, and other structures on trees lends credibility to the idea that the other five species would utilize the presence of chickadees as an indicator of food richness.

A black and white Downy woodpecker sits on a thicker trunk evaluating where to dig in for a meal during the winter months

Downy woodpecker

Sitting in a tree stand often affords close observation of these feeding groups, sometimes merely a few feet away. I am always amazed how they seem so tame, but I know they know I’m there. Maybe they somehow know that there is no way I could pose a threat since most other large mammals pay them no mind. Regardless, a flock of these beautiful birds nearby can appreciably blunt the boredom of long hours in the stand.

A Tufted titmouse sits on a branch with dead leaves enjoying the sunlight in the winter months.

Tufted titmouse

I have always thought the majesty of our forests is embodied by the wildlife they harbor. The birds, mammals, and other species that call our forests home give the woods a personality that comes alive when they grace us with their presence. Even if I don’t see any deer this weekend, I sure hope I will see some birds of a feather.


Photos provided by and article written by Ryan Reed, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

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Forest Fridays: Birds of a Feather