Living in the northeast, I appreciate those tough little songbirds that make this their home all year long and cope with the crisp winter weather just like me, the delightful Black-capped Chickadee.
My favorite words to describe Black-capped Chickadees are curious, bold and fascinating.
What Chickadees Look Like
The Black-capped Chickadee (Parus atricapillus) is a small, short-billed songbird with a black cap and throat.
The cheeks are white, and the underparts are light brown. Wings and tail dark grayish.
The upper wing feathers have white edging. The female looks exactly like the male. Size: 12-15 cm (5-6 in). Wingspan: 16-21 cm (6-8 in).
During cold weather, the Black-capped Chickadee might look exceptionally fluffy. That’s because the bird erects its soft, thick feathers to trap warm air close to its body.
A group of Chickadees is called a banditry of chickadees referring to the mask-like appearance of this species.
Where Chickadees Live
Black-capped Chickadees usually mate for life and are cavity nesters. Together they build nests in holes, typically in dead trees or rotten branches, or use an old Woodpecker hole.
They’re found in deciduous and mixed deciduous/coniferous woodlands, open woods and parks, willow thickets, and cottonwood groves. They are also commonly found in fields and suburban areas.
What Chickadees Eat
Black-capped Chickadees eat large quantities of insect eggs, larvae and pupae (insects in the torpid stage), weevils, lice, sawflies, and other insects.
They also feed on centipedes, snails, slugs, and spiders. The chickadee is one of the essential pest exterminators of the orchard or forest.
Black-capped Chickadee’s Call
The Chickadee makes at least 15 different calls to communicate with its flock mates and offspring.
Its name, Chickadee, is onomatopoetic, meaning the words is the sound it describes.
The more “dee” notes at the end of a Chickadee’s call indicate increasing levels of agitation.
I look forward to hearing their cheerful calls during the cold winter months. Hearing them always makes me smile.
I’ve gone out to fill the feeder, and I hear the Chickadees call from the pine tree with just one short “dee” to acknowledge my presence. Though I’d like to think the Chickadee is saying, “thank you.”
But when a Cooper’s Hawk or Red-tailed Hawk gets too close, it warrants more “dee” notes as a warning.
Welcome Backyard Birds
Black-capped Chickadees frequently visit bird feeders, taking one seed at a time and quickly whisk it away.
Chickadees hide seeds and other food items for recovery during the colder weather.
They place food items in different spots and can remember hiding spots a month after caching their food.
Only about 20 percent of the Black-capped Chickadees daily energy intake comes from feeders, and nearly half of their overall winter diet is made up of spiders, dormant insects, and even carrion.
When the temperature falls below 10 degrees, research shows that the survival rate of Chickadees almost doubles when they have access to feeders.
So, let’s help out these tough little songbirds and put up even more feeders in the cold winter months.
Their overall survival rate is 69 percent, versus a 37 percent survival rate when they don’t have access to feeders.
And in case you’re wondering. These small birds can live a relatively long life. The oldest banded Black-capped Chickadee in the wild lived 12 years and 5 months.
Black-capped Chickadees weigh less than one-half an ounce, but during the cold weather, Chickadees need twenty times more food than they do in the summer.
When the temperature falls below 10 degrees, you might notice that Chickadees eat at the feeder first thing in the morning and again just before dusk.
This eating behavior is because Chickadees can gain as much as 10 percent of their body weight each day and lose it all again during a cold winter night.
So feeding these delightful birds does help them survive and thrive.
Chickadee’s Favorite Foods
IntoBirds has seen great success feeding Black-capped Chickadees black-oil sunflower seeds and mealworms.
We’ve used Wagner’s Black Oil Sunflower Seeds and Harvest Seed & Supply’s Red Berry & Nut Wild Bird Food with great success.
Eating Out of Your Hand
Chickadees are quirky, curious and bold that you can have them eating out of hands.
I mean that quite literally.
They often land on my hand when filling the feeder. Or if I put a handful of black-oil sunflower seed in my hand, a Chickadee will quickly grab a seed and retreat.
You hear the gentle whir in the air as a Chickadee flies up to your hand. And see the blur of gray and feel the breeze when it flies off. And it all happens in milliseconds.
A Chickadee’s wing beats are 27 times per second. (In comparison, a hummingbird’s is 80- beats per second).
The Black-capped Chickadee has the distinction of being the state bird of both Maine and Massachusetts and is also the provincial bird of New Brunswick, Canada.
I love these small songbirds. They’re a sheer delight to watch at your feeder.
Be sure to listen for their appreciate “dee” calls after you put seed in their feeders and they swoop back down to take a seed, one at a time and hide them into bark crevices.
Cheery-sounding Chickadees will always be a welcome sight at my bird feeders.
Now grab a pair of binoculars and get out and see birds!