For the Birds: Labor Day Bird—Cheerful Chickadee

Monday, September 5, 2016

Photo by Elaine Chuang

By Christine Southwick

Remember the lyrics, “When there’s too much to do, Don’t let it bother you, Forget your trouble, Try to be, Just like the cheerful chickadee…”

Apropos for Labor Day, I thought.

Photo by Elaine Chuang

Black-capped Chickadees bring a smile to most people’s faces. Their upside-down antics while gleaning tiny little bugs from branches; their happy calls; and their easily identified black-and white heads make Black-caps welcome in most everyone’s yard.

These inquisitive little bundles of energy are the neighborhood warning system. Once they find a newly installed feeder, all the neighborhood knows where to find it.  Their “Predator Alarm” of dee dee dees is recognized by other species. The more dee dees at the end of their call, the more danger.

A human only rates an extra dee dee; a Sharp-shinned Hawk rates four or five dee-dees, and every little bird within hearing dives for the bushes, no questions asked.

Did you know that Black-capped Chickadees have the most complex social order of our local birds?

Photo by Elaine Chuang

The dominate bird eats first, picking the biggest and best seed. He then flies off with his prize, replaced by the dominate female, and  the rest of the flock members follow singly, in set order, with each chickadee getting its turn to swoop in, snatch a seed, and take it to the cover of a nearby branch to eat their seeds.

In wintertime, kinglets, Red-breasted Nuthatches, even Downy Woodpeckers rely on these resident shuttlecocks to find all the wintertime hoards and special offerings.

Black-capped Chickadees are cavity nesters, and readily use nest boxes with a 1 1/8 inch openings.

Photo by Christine Southwick

Hang the box in a safe place, where chickadees can fly from nearby branches. Throw in some wood chips, and usually chickadees will start nesting March/April. The male feeds the female while she is on her four to five eggs, and he helps feed the young. The fledgling will fly to new territories about three weeks after leaving their nest, but the core flock will stay in your yard.

Offer good quality seed, water to drink and bath in, nesting sites to raise their young, and trees and shrubs for shelter, and your yard will be graced with these delightful bug-eating birds.

Note: during cold spells, if you leave a bee guard off your hummingbird feeders, you may find that these smart little devils will learn to take a sip for quick energy.


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