For the Birds: May You Have the Heart of a Chickadee

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Two Black-capped Chickadees nearby
Photo by Elaine Chuang

By Christine Southwick

Black-capped Chickadees are a favorite with most birders. The title (Heart of a Chickadee) comes from First Nation peoples who think so highly of the moxie of Black-capped Chickadees that they created that expression.

These acrobatic, feisty little birds with their pleasant calls and dee-dee-dee alarms, have distinct black-and-white faces, and often seem to look at you with intelligence, weighing whether it is necessary, or not, to abandon going after that heaviest seed at the feeder.

Black-capped Chickadee on blackberries
 -- eating bugs and fruit
Photo by Elaine Chuang
Black-capped Chickadees have the most complex social order of all our local birds. The dominant bird eats first, followed by its partner, then the next ranked pair down and so forth, thus making it fun to watch as flock members dart singly from close-by branches, snatch the best seed, and then fly back to the cover, always in order.

If you were lucky enough to watch a feeder with color-banded chickadees, you would be able to see which individuals followed whom.

Inquisitive and friendly, chickadees will be the first to find your new feeder and announce their find to the neighborhood birds. In the winter, nuthatches, kinglets, and Downy Woodpeckers will tag along with chickadees because they know that these non-migrating bundles of energy will find all the winter tidbits.

Here's looking at you
Photo by Elaine Chuang
Chickadees are the local watch-birds. They are the first to sound the alarm, “Predator!” The more loud “dee-dee-dees” there are at the end of their call, the more danger they have perceived.

Humans too close rate an extra “dee-dee”.

A Sharp-shinned Hawk elicits four or five extra “dee-dees, prompting every bird within hearing to dive in the bushes, no questions asked.

Want these up-side-down bug-seekers in your yard? 

Serve black-oil sunflower seeds. Hang a suet feeder where you can watch it, and you will have chickadee visitors. Plant flowering current shrubs, trees like serviceberries, dogwood, or small crabapples, keep your evergreens, and add year-round water, and you WILL have resident Black-capped Chickadees.

Chickadees will readily use nest boxes with 1 1/8” holes and some wood chips within. The male feeds the female while she broods her four-five eggs, and he helps feed their fledglings. While the young will fly away, making their only long-distance flight of their life, the bonded pair will stay in your yard, and will raise a brood year after year, as long as you keep native trees and plants for their shelter and bug hunting.

Welcome birds, like these cute Black-capped Chickadees, to control your bugs. You will be pleased and entertained at the same time, while helping make the earth healthier by not using manufactured pesticides.



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