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The Songbird of Winter: Black-Capped Chickadee

Whether or not you know it, you’ve probably heard a black-capped chickadee singing in the winter. The most common sound you’ll hear is its classic call and namesake “chickadee-dee-dee”. Black-capped chickadees are very small songbirds with a black cap and bib, white cheeks and a grey tail, back, and wings. They are considered universally to be “cute” birds. You will likely spot black-capped chickadees in flocks in trees, shrubs or at a bird feeder. A flock of chickadees is called a “banditry”.

Unlike many other birds of Ontario, black-capped chickadees don’t migrate south throughout the winter. They have adaptations which help them to survive the harsh winters. Black-capped chickadees have a dense winter coat that, combined with specially chosen winter homes, keeps them safe and warm. The most impressive thing a black-capped chickadee can do is put itself into regulated hypothermia. This is when they lower their body temperature by 9-11 degrees Celsius, which allows them to conserve an average of 25% of their energy use each hour. Saving that much energy greatly increases their chances of surviving the winter. 

Did you know?

Usually birds are only known for one of their calls such as an owl “hooting”, a crow “cawing” of the “chickadee-dee-dee” call of a chickadee. Most birds can actually make many different noises that you may not recognize. Click here to check out some of the calls you might hear from a black-capped chickadee.  

Sometimes, birds of the same species will have different calls depending on the area they are from, kind of like an accent. Birds in the Georgian Bay area may not have the exact same call as the same species somewhere else in Ontario!

Black-capped chickadees are omnivores, meaning they eat plants and animals. In the warm months, when there is lots of food around, they will eat insects, spiders, and snails. In the winter when conditions are harsher, they will eat berries and seeds. Black-capped chickadees will sometimes hide these berries and seeds under leaves or bark, and will still be able to find them as long as a month later.

Black-capped chickadees are not shy birds. They are very curious and love to investigate anything they can. They will even land on your hands and eat birdseed if you stand still . Black-capped chickadees are one of the easiest birds to attract in your yard. They love suet feeders, sunflower seeds, and peanuts. They will land and feed on any type of bird feeder you have hanging or placed around your yard. Nest boxes are another great way to attract chickadees as they love to nest in trees. Black-capped chickadees are very sweet, small songbirds that will brighten your day.

 Photo by Joshua Giesbrecht.

Activity Time!

Make a Backyard Bird Feeder

You will need an orange, bird seed, and string or twine

  1. First cut the orange in half (or get an adult to) and scoop out the fruit, leaving just the peel in 2 bowl shapes 
  2. Poke four holes in each orange peel evenly spaced around the cut edge
  3. Take a piece of twine and thread each end through opposite holes and tie them on the inside of the orange peel. Repeat with another piece of twine on the two remaining holes
  4. Fill the orange peel with birdseed
  5. Hang your new bird feeder outside and watch to see birds visit
Photo from here.

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