The Wood Folk Diaries: Volume 2, Chapter 4: Meet Chickadee-dee-dees, The Most Popular Bird

Dear Wood Folk,

Around Haliburton there are some special birds that will feed from your hand: the grey jay, maybe a red breasted nuthatch, but most of all – the tiny chickadee. Here, specifically, the black-capped chickadee (poecile atricapillus):

They are the most widespread bird species across the land. Brave.. gregarious.. popular.

Their popularity is especially great for birders like myself. Often nuthatches, vireos, various warblers, and other species will fly around with chickadee flocks. Since they tend to be vocal birders can just follow the chickadee sounds. This doesn’t go for breeding season – when we’re following individual species songs.

Black-capped Chickadee Plant Allies

In and along our mixed forests, the chickadees make mossy fluff lined nests in small cavities in trees or branches. Birch and alder are popular tree choices. While they prefer to dig out their own hollow, woodpecker holes and other cavities commonly found in dead trees can work. They will also use these types of shelters in the cold winter months. (Be sure to click the link at the end of this diary to hear about their survival through our blistery winters!)

Besides major carnivorous tendencies, half their diet in the winter comes from seeds, like that of willows and cottonwoods, and berries, like juniper or cranberries. They’ll eat other plant matter too, such as acorn bits. Most of the year 90% of their diet is meat. That said, is it surprising how many seeds they take from your feeder? Well, that brings out another plant allyship. The barks and lichens on trees are where they store many of your seeds and other bits. They can remember where they stash all of these food caches for possibly a month or more, and will benefit from this hoarding for much of the winter while insect steak is sparse. So, keep putting out those seeds if that’s your thing!

How to Attract Chickadees

As you might have guessed from their nesting in woodpecker holes, they will use nesting boxes. Here’s one specifically for chickadees that is kind of an Ikea version of bird nesting houses. Some assembly required by the chickadees!

They may be the first bird to attend any sort of feeder or feed you put out. Their favorites include peanut butter, sunflower seeds hulled or not, shelled peanuts and suet. You could even put sunflower seeds in your hand and eventually have them feeding out of your hand. Or off the top of your head. Or better yet, out of a child’s hand. It’s a connective nature activity! They’ll be fast friends!

Remember to position feeders close enough to thickets so they can escape predators fast. And remember to keep things clean to prevent your visitors from spreading avian diseases.

For winter, shallow heated bird baths are recommended on some pages on the Internet, but the Canadian Wildlife Federation says they could be dangerous and that our birds have adapted to getting their water from snow and ice. It’s a debate. 🙂 Ever since my hummingbird caught in burdock incident, I err on the side of taking peoples word for it if they have seen a fatality from such a thing!

Let your garden or yard go a little wild, leaves the leaves, leave the dead trees, plant thickets around the edge, plant native seed bearing flowers, don’t use harsh pesticides or herbicides – you heard this all in the last couple Wood Folk diaries – these will provide the habitat for chickadees and their food and friends to flourish. They’ll also love thick evergreen trees and shrubs in your yard.

Here is an interesting link about how they survive our winters from the CBC. Because I wrapped up this article in mid October, I’m not sure who’s next! I am hoping to see grey jays for the first time in years. If they don’t show, we’ll probably be talking about nuthatches for a while! Happy holidays from Rachel and Robin at Song of the Woods!

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