When a member of these mixed flocks detects an intruder, they warn the entire group. During warmer weather, the danger might be a large black snake climbing a tree trunk. In winter, alarm calls are more likely elicited by hawks, owls or cats. By paying attention, great looks at screech owls and sharp-shinned hawks are possible.
Often, however, these foraging flocks sound the alarm before the intruder can be seen and identified. Small birds seem to know it's better to be safe than sorry.
Savvy hunters pay attention to songbird alarm calls. Sometimes a distant buck or gobbler is responsible. Birds use keen vision and hearing to detect larger wildlife well before a hunter can. While foraging high in the treetops, they have a panoramic view of the area.
This is another reason I pay attention to birds. Over the years, agitated birds have alerted me to deer, turkeys, grouse, red and gray foxes, and even an occasional coyote. Someday, if I'm lucky and persistent, maybe they'll point out a fisher or bobcat.
Whether you're a hunter or a watcher, it's hard to spend two hours in the woods and not make at least one interesting observation. It's why sometimes we can thank songbirds for opportunities we might otherwise miss.
Send questions and comments to Dr. Scott Shalaway, RD 5, Cameron, WV 26033 or by email via my website, http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com.