Black-Capped Chickadee’s Secret Diet

Reader Contribution by Kathy Knauer

Although spring is here, it’s still pretty cold out there in many parts of the country.   In a recent Bird Files segment on my public radio program, The Allegheny Front, Margaret Brittingham, an professor of Wildlife Resources with Penn State University, writes that Blacked-capped chickadees work extra hard to stay warm.  At less than half an ounce, they’re one of the smallest birds to survive in northern areas during the winter.

These tiny birds are frequent visitors to backyard feeders.  They dine on seeds, berries and occasionally fat from animal carcasses.  It’s no wonder – it takes a lot of body fat to keep warm.  Dr. Brittingham says that on cold nights, chickadees drop their body temperature to conserve on fuel.

“This is like you turning down the thermostat in your house at night…they lose about 10 percent of their body weight each night . If you were on the “chickadee diet,” you’d go to bed weighing 130 pounds and wake up at a slim 117,” Brittingham writes.

She explains that in the morning, chickadees get back to feeding. By the end of the day, they are bulging with fat to help them make it through another night.

Attracting Chickadees to Your Backyard Bird Feeder

Chickadees are communicators.  According to Brittingham, the number of “dees” in the chick-a-dee-dee call is an indication of danger.

“A predator that is not much of a threat might get a chick-a-dee-dee while a call of chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee, would be a major threat. In the spring,  the “Hey sweetie” song of the male chickadee establishes his territory and invites a female to share it with him,” Brittingham writes.

Her advice: “If you want to invite chickadees into your yard, trees, shrubs, and fallen logs, will provide food and nest sites. Evergreens provide winter cover.”

Photo by Minette Layne