The Habits and Habitat of Chickadee Birds

Learn about the habits and habitat of chickadee birds, includes information on how chickadees keep warm, the monogamous behavior of chickadee couples and chickadee scatter boarding of food in fall.

| February/March 2003

Learn about the behavior and habitat of chickadee birds.

The Habitat of Chickadee Birds

You don't have to look far in nature to see that not just good things come in small packages, but truly remarkable, holy-smoke kinds of things. Take, for instance, those diminutive little chickadees flitting about our winter bird feeders.

At first, you might not think they're anything special. Certainly, few North American birds are more common. Black-capped chickadees live coast to coast throughout most of the northern half of the contiguous United States, plus much of Canada and Alaska. In the Midwest and the South, where the black-capped's range ends, the look-alike (but somewhat smaller) Carolina chickadee takes up residence. The mountain chickadee, with masked-bandit face markings, claims the West. Plus, three other chickadee species make their homes in North America — the chestnut-backed (Pacific Northwest), the Mexican (Southwest) and the boreal (Far North).

But "common" hardly means "ordinary" in the case of chickadees.

How Chickadees Stay Warm

Your average chickadee, a fidgety puff of mostly feathers and bone, weighs about one-half ounce. How do these tiny birds routinely survive frigid days and freezing nights?

In autumn, chickadees, like other small birds, grow a thicker coat more — small, downy feathers, with lots of heat-trapping air spaces. By winter, the birds have gained 25 percent more plumage. On a cold day, chickadees fluff up these feathers to at least an inch. The result is a downy ball of a bird, its spherical overcoat astonishingly effective. At 10 degrees below zero, the difference between a tiny chickadee's body temperature (108 degrees) and the outside air — just an inch of insulating feathers away — is 118 degrees.

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