Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)
Among the cutest and most common backyard birds is the Black-capped Chickadee. This adorable avian is the State Bird of Maine, but it could also be the official bird of my backyard, because this non-migratory bird is always there, no matter the season or weather—rain, snow, sunshine. If I looked outside right now, I would probably see one.
Habitat: forests, open woods, parks, thickets, backyards
Food: Chickadees are omnivorous. In winter their diet is split between animals (insects, spiders, suet) and plants (seeds, nuts, berries); In breeding season their diet is 80-90% animals.
Tip: Put some seed in a feeder (sunflower seeds, peanuts, etc). They’ll probably eat it.
Threats: Populations are stable, but watch out for cats and window collisions
Impressive Bird Stuff I’ve Learned:
- Black-capped Chickadees have a complex range of vocalizations, at least 15 different kinds. There’s the namesake Chick-a-dee, but also Fee-bee, contact calls, a gargle (up to 13 syllables in half a second!), and even a snarl (“a rare, intensely agonistic call”).
- They cache seeds to eat later and can remember thousands of hiding places.
- Their hippocampuses increase by 30% in the fall when more memory is needed to recover all those seeds, and they may use clues like sun compass orientation and landmark information.
- They allow brain neurons with old information to die every fall, replacing them with new neurons, so they can adapt to changes in their social flocks and environment.
- In winter Black-capped Chickadees can lower their temperature and enter states of torpor to conserve energy.
- They’re energetic, curious, and friendly, but I’ve never had one land on me (yet).
A Backyard Banditry* of Chickadees
* A flock of chickadees is called a banditry, because they look like they’re wearing little black masks. Awww…
All photos copyright Alicia MacLeay / Click on any image to see it full size