Black-Capped Chickadees

For a while now I’ve been thinking about chickadees (long story). Then one flew into the house the other day…yep, right into the living room and up to the skylight. I managed to get the poor thing back outside without much ado, but took its visit as a sign to do a little investigative research.

Chickadees are often overlooked in the shadow of other remarkable, vibrant birds. They are common, so not considered extraordinary. Oh, but they are. These hardy little birds live across the northern half of North America. Thankfully, too, they don’t migrate, enlivening the quiet and stillness of the winter months. So how do they survive harsh winter temperatures? Controlled hypothermia. More scientifically, chickadees go into a state of torpor on very cold nights. They find a sheltered place, such as the hollow of a tree, fluff their feathers, and slow down their metabolism which lowers their body temperature by 10-20° F and conserves energy. In the morning they warm themselves up to go back to feeding. In addition, they gather and store food to help them through the winter. It gets better…the chickadee brain actually increases in size in the fall so they can remember where they stored the food!

Chickadees also have that signature cheery call, chick-a-dee-dee-dee. That’s not the only one, though. They have many other songs and calls. Apparently the language of chickadees is quite complex. Scientists studying them have identified well over a dozen different vocalizations that vary in pitch and length. As with all birds, the vocalizations are a means to communicate – to stay in touch with a mate, fend off a predator, or announce a food source. These calls communicate danger, too. With black-capped chickadees, their calls also communicate the level of danger. If you hear a chickadee call out chick-a-dee, followed by one or two more “dees” the danger level is low. But chickadees will add over 20 “dees” to their call if the threat level is high. I think I’m going to invest in a new bird feeder for winter and see what else I can learn.