The Black-capped Chickadee

One of the most familiar and beloved birds in the northern areas of North America, is the Black-capped Chickadee. This small bird is a frequent visitor to bird feeders and one of the least aggressive and most friendly birds to visit feeding stations. They will hide seeds and other food items in different places for later recovery. Though each item is placed in a different spot, they seem to have the ability to remember thousands of hiding places.

Feeding by hand a chickadee

While they frequent feeding stations, seeds are not the only thing the Chickadee eats. They seem to have no fear of bee stings and are quick to make a meal of them. They have also been known to eat other potentially harmful creatures, such as spiders, without any apparent ill effect.

These small birds are named after the melody which it most commonly sings—chickadee-dee-dee. However, when the weather starts to turn warm and the first signs of spring appear, the chickadees change their song to phee-bee with which they serenade their mate during the mating season.

The chickadee often uses the deserted hole of a woodpecker for its home or may construct its own nest by removing the soft material from trees which have rotten centers.

When making their nest, both parents actively participate enlarging the cavity to a depth of nine or more inches, while the entrance hole itself is usually no larger than two inches. They take turns in their work, waiting for the other to leave before entering. Keeping a very clean area as to leave no evidence for predators, they carry the chips scattering them away from the nest.

Chickadee nest

It is believed that chickadees mate for life. The female lays five to eight white eggs which are finely spotted with brown. The female sits on her eggs while the male feeds his mate with the finest food he can find.

While incubating her eggs, the female uses a unique strategy to discourage intruders. When an animal, such as a squirrel, pokes its head in the entrance, the little mother quickly sucks in her breath and then with a quick and explosive sound, she causes the air to escape. Hitting her mark, this stream of air is often all that is needed to discourage the intruder and send him on his way.

These parents are ever so enthusiastic when it comes to keeping their nest and surrounding area clean. If you watch carefully you will see them darting back and forth carrying a small sack away from the nest in their bill. These sacks or miniature diapers are the result of the young depositing their waste in a membranous package. Instead of allowing these to remain in the nest or to be thrown out the entrance, the parents cart them some distance away, so their home remains clean and tidy.

These small creatures are not without enemies, such as small hawks and shrikes, but God has provided them with a unique system of defense. The chickadee, like a man, is able to use both eyes together to focus on a single object, or it can use each eye independently. By using its eyes separately, it can actually be both nearsighted and farsighted at the same time. By cocking its head, it is able to sit on a branch, search for insects and focus up close while the other eye watches the sky for distant objects such as circling hawks.

Feeding stations can become a place at which predatory birds will come in search of prey. Chickadees, however, unlike some birds that perch and feed there, will quickly snatch a seed and be gone as quickly as they appeared, finding a nearby more secluded place at which to complete the job of opening and eating the seed.

Black-capped chickadee

Amazingly, despite the fact that being so small the chickadee looses body heat quite rapidly, these friendly little creatures live year around in areas where subzero temperatures are common during winter months. To survive, the chickadees grow more feathers in the winter and by ruffling and puffing its feathers, they are able to trap air between the layers of feathers, forming an effective layer of insulation. 

So, the next time you see or hear one of these small birds, think of how marvelously they were designed, allowing them to adapt and such inhospitable conditions, brightening even our winter days with their cheery songs.

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