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Fire-Capped Chickadees

I have no art for this—yet—but I have to write it down before I forget, after a conversation at AC…


The fire-capped chickadee is not the smallest of the garden phoenixes—that honor goes, depending on region, either to the flame-throated hummingbird or the blue-gray gnatscorcher—but certainly the most common visitor to birdfeeders. Their distinctive call of “Chik-a-dee-dee-dee-FWOOM!” is one of the first that most birders learn to identify.

Phoenix lovers can attract this cheerful specimen with the usual offerings of broken match-heads and small lengths of unburnt wicks. As always, we suggest that you make sure to use an asbestos feeder and use gloves when setting out food—those feeders can get hot!


Diana Stein was talking about urban fantasy wildlife, which I thought was delightful—in hers, it was blue-jays. She had a marvelous blue-jay phoenix in the art show.  I started thinking about a world where phoenix-ism is a transmittable (or possibly heritable?) disease among birds, and so you might get a phoenix subset of a common species, like albinism. In some areas, perhaps phoenixes would actually be selected for, so while the Carolina parakeet is long extinct, we could hope for a glimpse of the far more dangerous Carolina paraffinkeet…

Yes, this is what it’s like in my head more or less all the time, with occasional moments of “ooh! pie!” and random animal facts. I just learned today that daddy-longlegs masturbate. They use strands of silk to stimulate their genital areas. How wild is that?

Originally published at Tea with the Squash God. You can comment here or there.

If this is what it's like in your head all the time, I want to live in your head. :D

No, seriously! These mashups of fantasy tropes and weird wildlife facts (which I think is by far the stranger of the two) are awesome and I hope you draw us some fire-capped chickadees. Or Burrowing Campfire Owls, whichever. (We have burrowing owls here and my god they are the cutest little avian curmudgeons you have ever seen.)

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...if Daddy Long-legs females are as fond of eating their mates (before or after, depends on how hungry they are) as many other spiders, then... well, it's safer to go it alone?

Depending on how the phoenix-ism works, it may also lead to peculiarly specialized domesticated birds, such as the African Green Bee-Smoker, which beekeepers train to use a limited burn...

Edited at 2012-06-21 09:10 pm (UTC)

I can't wait to "spot" these rare pyro-avian specimens!

And am used to learn that humans aren't the only ones who think silk is sexy

Hmm. I'm thinking of all the species of trees that encourage forest fires and whose seeds may even require a burn in order to germinate. Fire birds and fire-loving flora would make for some interesting symbiotic relationships.

and disastrous invasive species problems!

Now I'm imagining a Coal Black Silkie Chicken....

I would TOTES name it Calcifer...


That made me actually laugh out loud!

Me too! So absurd and ridiculous. Love it.

As far as the phoenicism mechanism is concerned, it depends on how you want things to work:

* Probably the simplest solution is a morph of some kind. But explaining why so many different bird species have a similar-in-function morph could be interesting. Is there some particular reason why having only a subset of the species (i.e. some, but not all) able to spontaneously combust would be a generally helpful trait for birds?

* On the disease route, presumably the disease is relatively ineffectual in adults, but developing chicks experience more profound changes. I'm not familiar enough with bird reproduction to know if disease is generally heritable (as I understand human reproduction, there's a blood barrier that usually prevents babies from picking up the mother's bugs). Again you get to figure out why not every member of the species has the disease, but that's mostly a matter of balancing infection rates with the infectees' tendency to go boom. Presumably the explosion is part of the disease's attempt to spread itself? Perhaps we have a cycle: bird -> explode -> charred corpse is eaten by bugs -> bugs are eaten by bird (and fed to chicks) -> repeat.

Also, what about penguins?

I would think the pyroevolution
might be an effective if extreme adaption in response to mite or tick infestation. Presumably, insects bearing unwanted microbial gifts, ones with a higher fatality rate than the Phoenix effect itself: *poof*, no more bird flu or EEE.

I... this is adorable. May... may I use your chickadees in a future project of mine? I have a perfect little world for them.

Chickadees also make a FEEEE-bee noise -- which is much softer and cooing than a real Phoebe-bird's call, apparently. I wonder what Fire-capped Chickadees do as their other call.


After seeing the last episode of The Borgias, I will not be surprised to see a gang of flame-throwing cardinals in my yard trying to roast the local Savonarola hawk.

If ignition were timed correctly, might the Rhode Island Red-Hot sometimes lay a hard-boiled egg?

i must spread it like the wildfires that those phoenix birds would cause.

It wasn't an article--I'm reading "Zoobiquity." Fascinating stuff!

Also a cheaper and less possibly lethal possibility for the bird feeders would be Pyrex glass.

Even pyrex glass shatters if the temperature changes too quickly. Maybe basalt...

Hubby and I spent thirty minutes discussing daddy long legs and their sex lives thanks to you. Just thought you might want to know.

This just made me extremely happy. I hope you do create art of this.