Most people think chickadees are cute and in the winter, wonder how such tiny birds manage to survive in the brutal cold. Yet there is more to the average chickadee than most would assume…
Black-capped Chickadees are frequent visitors to my yard. Unlike many other birds, chickadees aren’t skittish and will actually allow you to get close to them while they’re eating. Some have been bold enough to take food out of my hand. They are dear little creatures, with a musical chorus that regularly enhances the outdoor experience in my neighborhood.
Chickadees have quite an established hierarchy within the flock. Birds at the top eat first and command the safest feeding spots and sleeping nooks. An alpha male will inevitably mate with an alpha female leaving the rest of the flock to fight among themselves for next-in-line pairings. In a well established flock, fights are few, as everyone seems to know their place. Though most pairs will mate for life, certain females will opt for divorce in an effort to improve their social status.
Chickadees maintain a body temperature of 107 degrees F during the day. On cold winter nights, this drops about 10 degrees as the chickadee enters a state of torpor that reduces its need for food. Dominant chickadees in the flock manage to acquire the coziest spots for night roosting, scrunching themselves into tight tree holes, but also under branches where they receive some protection from winds and predators.
Chickadees cache food and an individual’s ability to survive a harsh winter will depend greatly on its ability to recall where caches are located. Each morsel is hidden in a separate spot and there may be 100 of them hidden in a single day.
If you’d like to attract chickadees to your yard, try offering some black oil sunflower seeds, suet and/or fresh water. Due to their tame nature, chickadees are one of the easiest wild birds to handfeed.
For tips on handfeeding wild birds see my post on this subject at:
Divorce and Extrapair Mating in Female Black-capped Chickadees http://www.springerlink.com/content/qbmjt2dt9qk71gkd/
Between-year survival and Rank Transitions in Male Black-capped Chickadees http://caliber.ucpress.net/doi/abs/10.1525/auk.2008.07092
Poecile atricapillus http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/animals/bird/poat/all.html