At the south of my sit spot, there is a picnic area and a dumpster, which has become a larder of sorts for certain animals. Picnicking increases during the summer time, and the appearance of extra food scraps synchronizes perfectly with the rearing of young mammals that use this dumpster larder system.
I have learned to appreciate both this area and chance it provides to observe the alarms caused by opportunistic critters.
One early morning, while pulling into the parking lot of my sit spot, I could see the dumpster lid open and trash strewn about.
Before turning off my vehicle, the calls of chickadees and titmice could be heard coming from inside the wood line, 30 yards west of the dumpster. The birds were giving their “dee-dee-dee”(listen to an example of the call from the What the Robin KnowsOnline Audio Library) and “jway” calls. I got out of my vehicle and went to investigate, knowing I had disturbed something feeding in the dumpster.
On the way over, I noticed robins along the edge of a man-made trail and in cover of the shrub layer. This was to my north and the alarm’s east. The titmice and chickadees started moving, and I could see they were looking down toward the ground as they went by an old deadfall. This created plenty of ground cover and obscured the view from the picnic area. While I was watching the movement of alarm, a male cardinal flew in and began a volley of chips which instigated his mate to join.
The slow moving alarm shape, which in bird language parlance we call a “parabolic” (since it looks like an umbrella of birds positioned over a stationary or moving threat), was about five to six feet off the ground. The umbrella shape was clearly evident from the position of the birds and the vocalizations of different species.
This type of combined effort on the part of multiple alarming bird species also shows how these different species listen to each other, especially with regard to locating dangerous nest robbers.
When the cardinals joined in, the robin on the trail stopped his feeding and flew up toward a branch looking in the direction of the alarm. The robin kept hopping onto higher branches until he arrived in a low sentinel position at which time he gave a “tut-tut-tut”.
Walking down the trail to where the robin was, I stood right underneath him. He looked down at me and then back toward the parabolic, which the cardinals and titmice had created. The chickadees had flown north, seemingly interested in something else. The slow moving parabolic lasted more than 20 minutes; showing how drawn out some of these alarms can be, and testing the belief and patience of the observer.
I watched the robin follow the alarm while he was preening himself. The other robins fed their way south into the picnic area as the alarm moved across the trail north of me, though still heading to the east.
Standing beneath the sentinel robin, I kept an eye on some openings that might give me a view of the alarmist. Locating an animal trail that the cardinals and titmice seemed to follow, I visually continued their line of travel to a standing dead tree. This particular tree had multiple openings and would make a prime den site. The cardinals’ chipping suddenly stopped and they flew west toward a succession area!
Within a few seconds the raccoon headed directly toward the denning tree, climbing up into one of the holes and disappeared.