I’ve always loved chickadees. One reason is that I just think they are adorable birds. I’ve also always really liked their song – ‘Chick-a-dee-dee-dee’. I don’t know why, but mostly likely because it was one of the first bird calls I could actually identify. But most importantly, I could draw chickadees pretty well. So I grew fond of these little birds and its only fitting that I now honour them with their very own post.
Black-capped chickadees are found throughout the upper part of North America, and prefers to live on the edge of forests. Of course, the often hang around open fields and in cities, which is how I saw them when I was little. As their name implies, black-capped chickadees have a pretty black ‘hat’ on their head. The rest of the body is a mixture of grey, white and brown. They are about 15cm long, with a 21cm wingspan.
Chickadees eat a large number of insects, with up to seventy percent of its diet composed of animal matter. In warmer months, caterpillars are a particular favourite of the chickadee. In winter, due to lower availability of insects, the birds switch to eating more seeds and berries. Chickadees must be adorable to watch foraging – instead of walking like normal birds they hop along the ground or tree branches, and even hang upsidedown to get food.
In order to help themselves get through the winter (chickadees are non-migratory), black-capped chickadees have two important adaptions. One is their ability to cache food. Chickadees store food in tree knots, bark, or clusters of leaves and can remember the location of their stored food for almost a month. The second adaptation is the chickadee’s ability to enter a state of torpor. This means that on cold winter nights, the chickadee can reduce its body temperature by over 10 degrees celsius to conserve precious energy. These two skills make the chickadee a friendly year round resident of our lovely Canadian winters.
One of the most fascinating things about the chickadee is its complex range of calls. Thirteen different types of calls have been identified, the most famous of course being the chick-a-dee-dee-dee call. This call can be modified to give flock members information about predators or flock movements. Apparently the number of ‘dees’ at the end of the call is an indicator of predator threat – the more ‘dees’ the greater the threat. A pigmy owl, which is a huge menace to chickadees elicited a 23 ‘dee’ call. That had to get annoying at some point.
So next time you’re taking a gander through the woods, listen for chickadees! Maybe they’ll warn you about a nearby predator.