Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) are the cutest and most easily recognizable birds we have here in The Land Between. They are curious, energetic, and downright acrobatic!
Earning their names from both the black “cap” on their heads, and their chicka-dee-dee-dee call, Black-capped chickadees are among the most common and wide-spread bird species in Canada. Their range spans every province and territory except Nunavut, and includes the majority of the northern United States and Alaska.
Black-capped Chickadees live in a wide range of habitats from forests to suburban backyards, essentially anywhere there are trees or woody shrubs and a source of food. Black-capped Chickadees are among the easiest birds to attract to a feeder, eating sunflower seeds, peanuts, suet, and other offerings. When foraging for their own food, they will eat various insects, seeds and berries.
Black-capped Chickadees nest in cavities in dead standing trees or rotting logs. They often excavate and expand existing natural cavities, or take over old woodpecker cavities. They will also use nest boxes when they are provided. Female Black-capped Chickadees ensure the nest is nice and comfy for their offspring by creating a bed of moss, animal fur, or other soft fibers. Females lay 1 egg a day, laying 6-8 eggs, and incubate them for 12-13 days.
To add to their already well deserved appeal, here are 7 additional facts you may not know about Black-capped Chickadees:
- They Have AMAZING Memories
Black-capped Chickadees will often hide or cache their food for later. According to researchers, the birds can remember thousands of food hiding places for 28 days or more! What’s more, the birds have the ability to discard old neurons in their brains and replace them with new ones, allowing them to create space for additional important information as they age.
- They Have a Very Rigid Pecking Order
A term you may be more familiar with when discussing chickens, a pecking order is a hierarchy within a flock of birds, in this case, Chickadees. The more aggressive an individual is, the higher on the pecking order it will be. Individuals at the top of the pecking order earn better access to food and safer hang out spots. Adults typically pair and mate according to pecking order, with the highest ranked male pairing with the highest ranked female, and so on.
- They Have About 15 different Songs and Calls
Black-capped Chickadees have several other calls in addition to their namesake chicka-dee-dee. For example, the birds will emit a high pitched see to warn others of an approaching predator. When others hear this call, they freeze and do not resume their activity until an “all clear” chicka-dee call is heard. Black-capped Chickadees will also emit a “gargling” call when a bird of a lower rank comes too close to a bird of a higher rank. But my personal favourite is their cheese-bur-ger or hey sweet-ie song. This song has caused some in our office at The Land Between to refer to Black-capped Chickadees as “the cheeseburger birds”.
To hear these and other calls, check out the Black-capped Chickadee page at allaboutbirds.org here.
- The More dees in a Chicka-dee-dee Call, the Higher the Threat Level
The chicka-dee-dee-dee call is used to warn others about predators and threats. The greater the number of dees in the call, the greater the threat is.
- They Provide an Important Form of Natural Pest Control
Approximately 90% of a Black-capped Chickadee’s diet in the summer is composed of insects, many of which are considered pests in forests and orchards. Included in the summer diet of the Black-capped Chickadee are caterpillars, weevils and lice, the eggs, larvae and pupae of various other insects, caterpillars and spiders.
- It is the Official Provincial Bird of New Brunswick
The Black-capped Chickadee has been the official provincial bird of New Brunswick since 1983. It was also in the running (top 5) to be Canada’s Official Bird in 2016, but lost out to the Canada Jay. Other official provincial birds include the Steller’s Jay (British Columbia), the Sharp-tailed Grouse (Saskatchewan), and the Common Loon (Ontario).
- They Know How to Handle the Cold
In an effort to conserve energy at night, Black-capped Chickadees will drop their body temperature by 10-12 degrees below daytime temperatures. They will also lift their feathers to trap warm air close to their bodies.