When temperatures drop and the days get short, black-capped chickadees have little time to find enough food when their energy demand is high and days are short. Fortunately, these charming little birds with their cheery calls have a number of adaptations that help them through the long, chilly nights of winter.
Unlike many birds they forage among the twigs not only upright, but also upside down. Even tiny insect eggs hiding in a crack on the underside of a branch are not safe from the chickadee’s sharp eyesight and probing bill. Chickadees also feed readily at birdfeeders where they test each sunflower seed to see which are the plumpest. Empty shells are discarded before they are opened so the bird can maximize the number of calories consumed with the fewest expended.
They also have two techniques to conserve calories on cold winter nights. First, they seek a sheltered roost. Roosts in dense pine boughs not only exclude predators, but are slightly warmer than the air temperature. Second, once settled for the night, their body temperature slowly drops from their normal 108 degrees to just 86 degrees. This reduces the number of calories needed to survive the cold night.
Chickadees have numerous calls. For instance, contact calls keep small flocks together while alarm calls signal the approach of predators. Most interesting is that within these calls are enough variations that individuals can identify members of their own flock from those of other flocks.
Chickadees eat mostly insects and caterpillars in summer; seeds and insect eggs in winter.
Chickadees are among the easiest birds to feed by hand and love chopped walnuts.
Black-capped Chickadee (Paru atricapillus)
Key ID Features: Sparrow-sized. White cheek patches, black cap and throat. Gray above, light below. Both genders similar.
Present in Park: Year round.
Habitat: Forests and open woodlands. Nests in holes or bird houses.