Hearing the difference between a Phoebe and a Chickadee

     The dawn chorus has started. I love this! It's like hearing the sun approach the horizon, before the visual brilliance takes over my senses. The migrating birds will be flooding in soon, proclaiming their nesting territories with energetic song, but we are in an early moment when it's easy to pick out some distinctive voices. 
     Two that are often confused are the Black-capped Chickadee and the Eastern Phoebe. Everyone knows a Chickadee, right? It says its own name: "chick-a-dee-dee-dee". And the Phoebe says its own name: "fee-bee". 
     Not. So. Simple.
     Most birds have more than one vocalization. Chickadees have two common and very different ones. Their call is the "chick-a-dee" one. They make it when they are alarmed, escalating the number of "dees" with their escalating alarm.
     The Chickadee song is the one that we are hearing frequently now. It is a melodic two notes, the first one always higher than the second, and it sounds like... "fee-bee". Hence the confusion. Here it is.

Male Chickadees will start singing this in January, and to me hearing this singable and whistle-able song signals the return of the sun's light. It makes my heart happy.
     It's the Phoebe's song that is their dominant vocalization; their only call is a soft chip note. Phoebes are migrants here, and we just started hearing them recently. In fact they are one of the very first to return, and because their song is so prominent, usually I hear them before I see them. It's a glorious moment, because to me it means the slow plod towards spring is about to pick up pace dramatically. 
     Here is the Phoebe's song. It is a raspy (not melodic) two phrases, the first of which poses a question -- "fee-bee?" going up, and the second answering "fee-bee!" going down. Sometimes it's vice-versa

And for fun, here is a track that has both on it. I just recorded it two days ago. You might need your earbuds since the birds were farther away from me. It starts with a Phoebe. 

Now go outside and listen for yourself. And if you want to hear their other calls or read about them, click on Eastern Phoebe or Black-capped Chickadee to get to my favorite source for bird info, allaboutbirds.org from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 
And... the bird drawings are by Nina. Beautiful.