2017-08-12 / Top News

Black-Capped Chickadees Enjoy Island

The other day, a friend asked me if black-capped chickadees have more than one brood each year because this week she had seen some young fledgling chickadees and thought that it was awfully late for the usual spring brood. It was a question that I didn’t know the answer to, so I thought I would find out.

Black-capped chickadees are probably one of the most common visitors to bird feeders from the northeastern part of the United States to the West Coast and north through much of Canada and Alaska. They are year-around residents of Mackinac Island and are generally considered “cute” because of their oversized head, tiny body, and their curiosity about everything. For those not familiar with these birds, as their name implies, they have black heads, a short, black bill, and a black bib. The cheeks are white with gray upper part of the body, wings, and tail and the under parts are white with buffcolored sides. Male and female chickadees have the same coloring. This coloration is quite distinct, but could be confused with the Carolina chickadee, which is generally a more southern bird and smaller with a shorter tail. The call is a husky, drawn out “ chick- a- dee- dee- dee- dee” (hence the name), and the song is a clear-fluted “fee-bee” or “feebee be.”

These birds breed in deciduous or mixed deciduous/coniferous woodlands, riparian woodlands, thickets, and parks. Nesting season is from late April through June. During courtship, there is a simple pursuit of the female by the male. They then nest in a hole in a tree, usually three to 23 feet off the ground, and rarely in conifers. The pair excavates the hole together or uses a natural cavity or an old woodpecker nest. The nest is built by the female only and made of moss or bark strips and lined with finer material such as mammal hair, feathers, and plant down. It usually requires 10 to 14 days to excavate and line the cavity. The clutch size is six to eight eggs, which are small and oval, about 0.6-inch by 0.48-inch, white with fine dots of reddish brown concentrated at the larger end. Incubation lasts between 11 and 14 days. The female incubates the eggs, but the male feeds her. If there is a disturbance at the nest entrance, the incubating female may utter an explosive hiss, like that of a snake, probably to discourage predators. Once eggs are hatched, the female stays with the nestlings and the male brings them food, but both parents feed the young. In 12 to 16 days, the young leave the nest. The parents place food outside the hole to tempt them out. The young will be fed for several weeks after they’ve first gone out, but within a week, they can catch their own food. By the way, they eat conifer seeds, fruits, insects, spiders and their eggs. Their diet changes with the seasons. In winter, the chickadees eat about half seeds and berries and other plant matter and the other half animal food (insects, spiders, suet, and some carrion). In the spring, summer, and fall, insects, spiders, and other animal food make up 80% to 90% of their diet.

Most books list them as being monogamous and say they only produce one brood each year; however, on further research, I discovered that if the first brood is lost, a second one is possible. This may be the case for the young chickadees that my friend saw, as the first broods would have been independent and grown long before now.

In trying to answer my friend’s question, I came across a number of interesting facts about this very common bird and here are some of them:

The oldest known blackcapped chickadee was a male and at least 11.5 years old when it was recaptured and released during banding operations in Minnesota.

Blacked-capped chickadees hide seeds and other foods to be eaten later. Every item is placed in a different spot and the chickadee can remember thousands of hiding spots.

Every autumn, black-capped chickadees allow the brain neurons containing old information to die and replace them with new neurons so they can adapt to changes within their social flocks and environment, even with their tiny brains.

There is a dominance hierar-

Return to top

Click here for digital edition
2017-08-12 digital edition