Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) are a member of the Titmouse family. They are about 5 inches long, and the black cap, black bib, and white cheeks make these birds easily identifiable. In this article, we’re going to learn a little more about the Chickadee nest, their nesting habits and other unique characteristics around this bird’s home life.
You’ll find them pretty friendly, and they hardly get distracted by the human’s presence. Interestingly, lots of bird watchers tend to feed these small birds using their hands. That’s mainly during the winter seasons.
Nesting Habits of Chickadees
Wild birds, chickadees included, are often selective nesters. They choose sites that offer excellent and safer shelter from their predators. Their nesting areas must be closer to sufficient food. Additionally, they need to have a rich supply of materials for building out their chickadee nest with.
Chickadees have unique yet natural nesting habits. Typically, these birds make their nests in wooded areas, especially in a hole of a tree or limb. They also like nesting in human-made birdhouses.
You will find chickadees in mixed and deciduous forests, parks, cottonwood groves, and open woods. In addition, they are common in willow thickets and disturbed places.
Chickadees often start breeding during the spring season of the year after hatching. The females select their mate. And the pairs they bond can last for years.
These birds, primarily females, begin looking and discovering the potential nest sites towards the end of January or early February in certain areas. That’s usually during warm and sunny weather conditions. And they probably stay in a box before they start building their nests.
Both the males and females participate in cavity “excavation”, which lasts for about 7 to 10 days. If you notice some wood chips are falling from a chickadee’s beak, you can easily locate a natural cavity it’s excavating.
The chickadee nest making season generally begins in April and ends in June. You can see chickadees making their nesting spots during this period by hollowing a cavity in a rotten tree trunk or piece of wood. These wooded trees are usually between 4 to 15 feet from the ground.
These birds are selective when it comes to creating their nesting site. Therefore, they tend to dig several cavities before deciding which one can be their ideal home.
If the nest gets disturbed, they tend to leave and fly a considerable distance, seeking out a better place to build the nest.
The female will make the nest more comfortable using soft materials such as moss. Due to their hard work and dedication, they only take a few days (usually between 4 and 5) to finish building a single nest.
Their nest chamber averages around 21cm deep, where the female makes another cup-like nest inside the cavity. The females also use other rough materials for the nest’s strong foundation and line it with softer materials like the rabbit fur. Their ultimate aim is to find a comfy place to lay their eggs and raise youngsters.
What if the chickadee nest fails due to destruction from another bird or gets damaged by a house wren? Well, the bird will abandon that spot and never try to make another nest. Instead, they will practice their nesting habits elsewhere.
This happens between mid-April and early June, usually about two days after completing the nest construction. Typically, a female chickadee lays an egg every day, giving a total of 6 to 8 eggs.
However, the number of eggs laid by the females depend on their age. Older females will always lay many eggs. The latitude of the area and timing are other factors that influence the number of eggs laid.
You’ll find their white eggs with speckles of brown eggs. The females also tend to cover and protect the eggs from predators.
After the female chickadees finish laying the eggs, incubation begins. It generally lasts for about two weeks (12 to 13 days). It often occurs for 20 to 25 minutes time stamps, with 7 to 8 minutes interrupted for feeding.
The male has the responsibility of feeding the female while they incubate and hatch the eggs.
At times, the female will call the male to bring her food. The female will occasionally feed by herself.
Interestingly, the male will continue feeding the female even after they finish hatching their chicks. You’ll find these two partners cooperate after that, and both feed the offspring who begin to leave the nest after about 16 days.
The parents then stop feeding the youngsters after a few weeks when they start fledging or test their wings and try to feed by themselves. And they can raise about two broods of offspring in a season.
When it comes to mating, chickadees portray minimal behavior &mdash at least not to the extent you would see from other more prideful birds. The males will scare away other males who try to approach their territory. That is probably one of the only mating habits you’ll see out in the open. Their courtship is secret, and you’ll never see them mate.
During winter, pairs naturally separate themselves from the small winter feeding groups. They then start finding themselves other mates when breeding periods come.
Chickadees have an average lifespan of about two and a half years. The longest ever lived chickadee had a record of 12 years and 5 months.
How to Attract Chickadees to Your Backyard
Winter is the perfect time to inviting chickadees, and it is pretty straightforward. Simply set up a bird feeder and fill it with black oil sunflower seeds.
In such a case, consider including a squirrel proof feeder to the birds’ eating stations. You can alternatively use suet and peanuts on the bird feeders to attract these birds.
The good thing is that they can use small hanging feeders that swing when the wind blows. They can readily visit window feeders.
What’s more, the black-capped chickadees are often active feeders. For this reason, they must eat each day, and you can rest assured that they will visit the bird feeder in the morning.
In fact, you’ll notice them feeding in shifts and every chickadee lining up at the feeders as they wait for their turn. However, only the most powerful birds eat first, whereas the minor birds often wait before they eat.
So, sit back in your yard and watch these exciting birds pick up a seed, fly to a neighboring perch to eat the seed before coming for the next.
If you have a comfy winter coat and be patient enough, you’ll find it possible to teach these birds how to feed on your hand.
Do you want chickadees to make nests in your backyard? You can try placing a well-built chickadee birdhouse and a nest box onto a tree to attract a breeding pair. Place wood shavings or sawdust in the chickadee nest box as that’s what pleases these birds.
Be sure to set up pretty well before the breeding season starts. Use a guard to scare away predators from raiding the nests and prey on eggs and the offspring.
Make sure this is in a wooded area that offers a similar habitat condition as in the wild. Don’t even worry about the location of the nest’s entrance. That’s because these birds tend to prefer an unblocked path to the cavity.
Ensure there are no leaves and branches that obstruct the chickadees’ way. More importantly, set the nesting box far back from other branches and trees to restrict mice and squirrels from raiding the box and prey on chickadee eggs or nestlings.
Planting trees such as birch, alder, and willow offers an excellent yet future nesting habitat for these amazing birds.
Since they stay around during winter, adding a heated birdbath can be handy for their survival. All the winter birds you like watching require easy access to open water.
Tips for Making Chickadees Stay in your Yard
- Leave a dying or dead tree to stand to offer chickadees ample habitat and a secure supply of food.
- Trim tree branches that seem dangerous or hindrance to these birds’ comfort.
- Let several native plants grow and flourish. It can be allowing part of your garden to grow into a small wild or plant in usual garden beds. Most importantly, use natural methods like chickadees to control pests in the garden.
- Supplement the chickadees’ food sources with suet, sunflower or peanuts in a birdfeeder. This will help attract these birds to your backyard during colder months.
- Keep away your domestic cats and pets indoors, on a leash, or in enclosed cages. This will help restrain such pets from scaring away this bird species.
What do Chickadees Eat?
Chickadees diet mainly comprises seeds, berries and insects. They eat insect eggs and larvae in large quantities in nesting seasons.
You’ll usually find them dangling on a branch’s undersides as they look for insects. It surprises many people that about 50% of these bird’s winter feeding habit consists of animal material.
That is primarily insects, insect egg cases, and larvae. Still, their summer diet is 80% animal. Suet is yet another excellent winter food that chickadees love most. They also like eating tiny caterpillars and other pests such as cankerworms and spruce budworms.
Chickadees are incredible food hoarders. This means that they tend to store surplus insects and seeds in crevices or beneath structures lying on the ground like twigs. Therefore, they’ll never suffer when food gets scarce, like during the winter months.
What’s more interesting is that these birds can still retrieve the stored food a month later. If a few of the caches are available, they’ll spend most of their time looking for those with excellent energy value.
Chickadees Summer and Winter Habits
Once the nesting period comes to an end and the offspring leaves the nest, chickadees group themselves into small flocks of about a dozen or less.
One of their distinct habits is that they usually stick on or nearby their breeding sites through winter. Every flock has several juveniles, a few single adults and a few adult pairs.
The chickadees’ flocks then center around a ruling pair and form a feeding territory that protects them from other herds.
In colder regions at farther northern, chickadees usually puff out their plumage, forming a ball of feathers. They do so to help conserve heat by trapping more air around the undersides of their feathers. This enhances insulation and restricts their bodies from losing heat.
These birds can constrict their blood vessels, forcing the blood to flow beneath the skin surface to reduce heat loss.
When these tricks don’t offer adequate heat to maintain their body temperature, chickadees can shiver to generate extra heat. However, this serves as only a temporary measure since it requires efficient metabolism of the food stored.
Keeping Chickadees Warmer in Winter
The cold winter nights when temperatures fall and food reserves reduce, chickadees tend to have it pretty rough. Their body functions reduce, affecting metabolism and breathing rates forcing their body temperature to fall to about 100 C.
The best hope they have to keep themselves warm during winters is by fluffing their nests with soft and comfortable materials. Sawdust and wood shavings can work best in such a case. You can leave some of these materials around for them to use in nest construction, and you can also create a heated birdbath to help keep these birds warm and comfortable.
Chickadees are generally permanent residents. However, they tend to migrate in the fall, occasionally when you’ll see them fly in a small flock of about 12 individuals towards the southern parts, especially in southeastern Canada and northeastern states.
They also get the company of other bird species while they migrate through their territories. The Downy Woodpeckers, White-Breasted Nuthatches, and Tufted Titmice are good examples of such birds.
You’ll find the group staying together from august to February. Thereafter, the chickadees start their new season.
- Another very common bird in the US also has some pretty interesting nesting habits. Check them out in The Bluebird Nest: Eastern Bluebird Nesting & Mating Habits
- The human-bird connection can be very real sometimes, as we’ve seen with chickadees being very accustomed to human contact. Occasionally you might stumble upon a wild bird nest with some hungry chicks waiting for food — before you go about feeding them, make sure you’ve read a little more about what they can potentially eat, and if feeding them is a good idea in the first place.