Black-capped Chickadee: One of Our Top Five Favorite Backyard Birds!

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The Black-capped Chickadee is a “fun” bird.  It will brighten your yard as well as your day with its constant “chatter”, “Chick-a-dee-dee-dee”, and insatiable curiosity.  The Black-Cap will perch nearby waiting for you to finish filling ITS feeder, not a bit uncomfortable with you so near by, but maybe a bit impatient!  It will remind you to speed it up with its call, again and again.

They are also about as cute a small bird as you will find anywhere with their black cap and bib and white cheeks. Their underparts are white with rusty brown on the flanks. They have a short dark bill, short wings and a long tail. Their total body length is about 5 1/2″. From wingtip to wingtip, they are near 7″.  They weigh less than one-half an ounce.  Sexes look alike, but males are slightly longer and larger than the female. Because they are inquisitive, they are one of the easiest birds to attract to your bird feeder for suet, black sunflower seeds, and peanuts. They don’t mind using tiny hanging feeders that swing in the wind, or window feeders.

With a little luck and perseverance, maybe you can have them eating out of your hand!

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They hop along tree branches searching for food, sometimes hanging upside down. They make short flights to catch insects in the air. In the summer, insects form a large part of their diet.  In the spring and summer the Black-capped Chickadee hides seeds and insect larvae to eat later.  Each seed is placed in a different spot.  It is believed the chickadee can remember thousands of hiding places.

During the fall and winter, chickadees flock together in noisy groups, which many times can include other species of birds, such as titmice, nuthatches, and warblers. Other species stay because the chickadees call out whenever they find a good source of food, allowing the other birds to find food more efficiently. They also call when predators are nearby.

On cold winter nights, Black-caps reduce their body temperature by as much as 22 degrees (F) to conserve energy. Capacity for torpor (reducing body temperature) in birds is quite rare with only a dozen or so with this capability. Another surprising adaptation is that Black-caps are able to replace old neurons with new neurons, essentially creating new mental-space to store new information!

The Black-capped chickadee can be found from coast to coast, mostly the northern half of the Unites States in the south, to James Bay, the southern edge of the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, and the southern half of Alaska in north. its preferred habitat is deciduous woods or mixed, deciduous and coniferous.  Found also in open woods, parks and suburban yards.

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The Black-capped Chickadee is the state bird of both Maine and Massachusetts. It is also the provincial bird of New Brunswick.

Their name comes from their call, chick-a-dee-dee-dee (Called onomatopoetic — the word is the sound that it describes.)  Their call is simple sounding but complex.  Recent study shows that their call consists of up to four distinct units, which can be arranged in complex patterns to communicate information from group movement to threats from predators.  It has been learned that the more “dees” the chickadee places at the end of the call the higher the threat level from nearby predators.  In one case, a warning call about a pygmy owl, a prime predator, contained 23 dees!!

In the states of Alaska and Washington, and in parts of western Canada, Black-capped Chickadees have become affected by an unknown agent that is causing beak deformities. This deformity causes stress by inhibiting feeding ability, mating, and grooming.  Black-capped Chickadees were the first affected bird species in Alaska in the late 1990s. More recently, the deformity has been noted in 30 other bird species in the referenced area.

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