Birder Jargon Project: Carolina Chickamice
It’s one of the first lessons you learn as a birder. In fall and winter the key to a good haul of desirable species is to find those flocks of Chickadees and Titmice. Fortunately, the Parids, the North American representatives of the widespread Old World Tit family, are represented in some form or another across the entire continent. And more fortunate still, despite that diversity, the niches that they fill and the roles that they play are mostly the same throughout. You can be almost certain that a Carolina Chickadee in Georgia will act much like a Mountain Chickadee in Wyoming and a Tufted Titmouse in New Jersey is very similar to a Bridled Titmouse in Sonora. They are all more or less catalysts for mixed species flocks, and their presence is the key to a potentially great day.
For many birders though, the rasping alarm calls of Chickadees and Titmice can be very similar. And while you may, after a time, get comfortable enough to work your way through the variety of sounds these Parids can make to tell the different between them, that’s often not necessary if you’re just looking for mixed flocks. You may just call out “Chickamice” to your field companions and start the pishing from there. Nowhere in North America are Parids rare, and given their general non-proclivity towards vagrancy, when you refer to Chickamice in a very generalized way no one is going to be confused as to what birds you’re referring. Down in my neck of the woods, it’s Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice. In Texas it might be Carolinas and Black-crested Titmice. In California you’ll probably have Chestnut-backed Chickadees and Oak Titmice. It makes no difference, the birds will act much the same.
I’ve even heard Chickadees further abbreviated simply to “Chick“, especially useful when comparing one or more species as in the mountains of North Carolina. In communication with eBird reporters I’ll often cut it down to Carolina Chicks and BC Chicks (Black-capped) in order to save myself the typing. But nowhere, besides Europe, are Titmice simply referred to as Tits. It seems that prudence wins out over here. We may accept Chicks, but at Tits, the line is drawn.