[midvalleybirds] Chickadees recognizing an individual human (me)

Don Boucher donaboucher at gmail.com
Thu Mar 19 14:28:51 PDT 2020


We've all heard about how crows can recognize human faces. (*Social
learning spreads knowledge about dangerous humans among American crows*.
Heather N. Cornell, John M. Marzluff and Shannon Pecoraro)

Today, I think I discovered that Black-capped Chickadees that I know can
recognize me. At the office on Research Way, I frequently take my breaks by
walking to the Dunawi Creek Community Garden. The scrub-jays and crows in
the area recognize me in about any context they see me, regardless of the
clothes I wear, where I'm walking or whether or not I'm on my bike. That's
because they get peanuts from me. Some of the Spotted Towhees also know me
as a source of peanuts when I show in their territory. Sometimes
Black-capped Chickadees show up during peanut feeding time and I toss them
peanut kernels.

Today I went to the community garden and tossed some peanuts to the crows
and jays along the way. Then I sat down at a bench in a part of the garden
I hadn't visited in months. In order to eat my lunch in peace, I stopped
feeding the crows peanuts before I got to the bench. After about 10
minutes, the crows and jays lost interest and left. Several minutes later,
a chickadee came and looked at me from a nearby branch overhanging the
bench. I got out my bag of peanuts and the chickadee came closer. Since the
crows and jays had already left, I was able to toss peanut kernels to the
chickadee and its mate without any cues or interruptions from the crows or

It seems that the chickadees simply recognized me as the peanut guy without
the context of me tossing peanuts to other birds. Maybe they know my face,
recognize other cues about me, or both, but they know who I am when I'm not
in the act of giving out peanuts. I'm not at the level of getting them to
take food from my hand because I don't have that much time when I'm on

I can't rule out that the chickadees may be strictly relying on the cue of
me feeding other birds, but if so, they are very patient and would have
waited 15 minutes after the last peanuts given to the crows and then
tracked my position to a new part of the garden. That's still cognitively

Don Boucher

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