Larry Collins

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December 6, 2012
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COLLINS: Chickadees are tough little birds

Chickadees are found across much of North America. The more common species include the Black-capped, Carolina, and Mountain Chickadees. On the Western Slope, we have the Black-capped and Mountain Chickadees.

Chickadees are easily identified by their namesake call "chick-a-dee." They are inquisitive birds and found in wooded areas. The Black-capped generally sings out a "fee-bee" call. However, this song is learned, and in overlapping territories, may be learned from the "wrong" species of chickadee.

Chickadee's wing beats are about 27 times per second. This would compare to a hummingbird's 80 beats per second.

The Black-capped Chickadee primarily eats insects during the breeding season with some seed and fruits. The non-breeding season finds them eating about half animal and half vegetable matter like seeds, spiders, insects, and even the fat from carrion. They prefer to eat seeds, suet, and even coconut. Mountain Chickadees do a lot of foliage gleaning, looking around branches and leaves for insects, beetles, larvae, and spiders. They enjoy seeds and will readily visit feeders. In early summer, Mountain Chickadees are able to find and use seeds which they hid during the previous autumn. Research has shown that while chickadees are regular visitors to feeders, over 75-80% of their winter food supply still comes from natural sources. Chestnut-backed and Black-capped Chickadees watch other birds' foraging success to see if they should adapt their behavior to be more successful.

Chickadees are a tough little bird that do not migrate. During cold weather chickadees have been found to need twenty times more food than they do in summer. When the temperature falls below 10 degrees F, research has shown that the survival rate of chickadees almost doubled when they had access to feeders. This resulted in an overall higher winter survival rate of 69% versus a 37% survival rate for populations without access to feeders. Chickadees have excellent coping tactics for surviving harsh winter weather. They cache foods and remember where they are hidden, have dense winter coats, diligently find excellent, well-insulated roosting cavities, and can perform a controlled hypothermia to conserve energy overnight. Chickadees are able to perform this hypothermia at night to drop their body temperature about 12-15 degrees F lower than their normal day-time temperature.

Have you noticed how ravenously the birds eat at your bird feeders, especially first thing in the morning and just before dusk? Chickadees can gain as much as 10% of their body weight each day and lose it all again during a cold winter night.

Chickadees are generally monogamous, mating for life. They are cavity nesters, and they will excavate their own nest site in rotten or decaying wood, use an old woodpecker hole, or a nesting box. (A Mountain chickadee may not excavate its own hole and will nest under rock, in a bank, or in a hole in the ground.) They will add a cozy nest on a moss base. Usually, chickadees lay six to eight white eggs with a light reddish-brown speckling. The eggs hatch in about 12 days and the babies fledge about 21 days later.

The longevity record for banded Black-capped Chickadee in the wild is 12 years and 5 months, and 10 years and 1 month for the Mountain Chickadee.

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The Post Independent Updated Dec 6, 2012 02:22PM Published Dec 6, 2012 02:21PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.