Black-capped Chickadee

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The Little Energizer Birdie
Black-capped Chickadee
Photo by: 
Rick Jordahl

I’ve always marveled at the bundle of energy we call the Black-capped Chickadee. Named for its famed chic- a-dee-dee-dee call, the Latin translation for the scientific name, Parus atricapillus , means a titmouse with black hair on its head.

I’m not the only one who admires their boundless energy, chickadees are often the center of winter feeding flocks. These little guys are masters of food discovery and are often the first species to find a newly placed bird feeder. Combine their knack for finding food with a very vocal life-style and you can see why woodpeckers, titmice, kinglets and even bluebirds will join in with a group of chickadees on a cold winter day.

It is a good thing that they are so efficient at finding food. Their small size is more vulnerable to heat loss, thus they must work harder to stay alive in cold weather. Scientists estimate that on sub zero temperature days, chickadees must spend 20 times more effort searching for food than in springtime just to survive long cold nights.

Chickadees are indiscriminating cavity nesters. They will nest in just about any vacant hole that they can get into. I had one nest down in an old metal fence post. Unfortunately, it rained and flooded the nest out. We do have boxes with holes cut to chickadee size but they will quite often use bluebird boxes.

There are seven species of chickadees in North America, with two occurring here in Missouri. Here in the northern half of the state we have the Black-capped Chickadee with its two note “see- saw” song. In the southern part of the state, they have the similar looking Carolina Chickadee who’s song is a drawn out “care-o-line-a”. In central Missouri where the two nesting territories meet, hybrids are quite common.

Attracting chickadees is no problem. They will eat a wide variety of seeds, but peanuts and sunflowers are their favorites. These little energizer birdies need all the calories they can get.

By John Burwell

FALL 2007