Each year, when spring springs, Sarah and I rekindle conversation about the song of the black-capped chickadee. I once referred this particular species as a “minor-third bird,” since it’s call, as I heard it, consisted of a descending minor third. Sarah scoffed and said that I should be embarrassed. “It is clearly a descending major second and you, a teacher of aural skills, ought to be ashamed of yourself!” (Or something to that effect.) I asked my father to weigh in on it, but the upper of the two pitches coming from his own yard was a little out of his aural range.
This year I decided to do a bit of research and found that the interval isn’t as consistent as any of us had assumed. It varies from one region to the next and from one individual to the next. A single bird might even change the interval gradually over the course of a season. And, of course, it’s unlikely that these chickadees were fitting their songs to an equal-tempered dodecaphonic tuning system.
After lunch this afternoon, I heard one in the yard and recorded it for posterity. Amidst all the other bird/traffic/neighborhood noise, you can hear a solitary chickadee singing it’s signature tune. (Sarah wasn’t interested in sticking around. You can hear her closing the back door a few seconds into the recording.)