Winter storms like the one that’s beset Nova Scotia the past couple of days provide the ultimate test for chickadee memories. When food supplies become scarce due to snow cover, they must rely on their memories to retrieve food that they hid when supplies were more plentiful.
A chickadee may have up to a hundred bits of food (seed, insect or berry) hidden in nooks and crannies in the forest. Each piece is stashed in a different place. Just before the storm peaked yesterday afternoon I noticed a small flock of chickadees coming and going non-stop from a pile of sunflower seeds I had set out for them. They weren’t eating the seeds but hiding them in the bark of trees and coming back for more. They had good reason to be working so quickly. In about 15 minutes, the pile of seeds I had put out was buried under snow.
During winter nights, the body temperature of chickadees drops about ten degrees as they enter a state of torpor, enabling them to survive the cold. Still, they need to eat during the day. If a chickadee couldn’t remember the location of its stashes, its chances of survival would be slim. I wonder if older chickadees are subject to memory loss like humans as they age.
This morning I shoveled the driveway while listening to a flock of chickadees cheerfully calling out to one another in song. The little chickadee in the photo below appears to be doing a dance of joy. Happy as a bird, it’s probably celebrating making it through yet another winter storm. Perhaps we should do the same
For more information about chickadees, see my previous post about The Private Lives of Chickadees.
If you’d like to learn how to feed chickadees by hand, see my previous post about How to Handfeed Wild Birds.