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(Feeding Birds in Winter)
Our Black-capped Chickadee. These little birds keep us company through the long Adirondack Winters. Their social behavior and physiological adaptations are a natural wonder. CLICK & GO.(On this page.) Chickadee social behavior. Physiological adaptations. Winter feeding, metabolism. Winter Over, Nesting. Fourpeaks Chickadee Bird Feeder Model H2O-2.5 and improved V.05. Chickadee song in winter (2 audio files). Sources and weblinks. "I have a nest in a bluebird house. I think that a Chickadee has made her home there." (An Email Exchange.) More pages in An Adirondack Miscellany: Newspaper reports, Magazine articles and Book notices. (On the next page). "Feeding Birds in Winter," A poem about the chickadee (among other things). George, Our Resident Canine Host, chickadee watching at the Camp Barn bird-feeder. "A Chickadee Story" (one of our Adirondack Newsletters)
"We learned to be patient observers like the owl. We learned cleverness from the crow, and courage from the jay, who will attack an owl ten times its size to drive it off its territory. But above all of them ranked the chickadee because of its indomitable spirit." Tom Brown, Jr. (A birdwatcher.)
A flock usually forms around a dominant pair that has just finished a successful brood. The flock contains from six to ten birds (and more if well supplied with feed), some juveniles, some paired adults, and some single adults. These winter flocks often include other species. (Our Camp Barn winter flock in Jay N.Y. includes an outsize pileated woodpecker.) The flock establishes a feeding territory which it defends against neighboring flocks.
Observing the flock, there are occasional short chases between members of the flock. The is the result of one's expression of dominance over another, for the flock has a linear hierarchy, with the two members of the main pair each dominating all others of their respective sexes.
These expressions of dominance are best seen in crowded feeding conditions, such as those around a backyard feeder. Certain birds approach the feeder directly, scaring off other birds that are feeding. Other birds wait until the more dominant ones are through, sometimes approaching and then veering off without perching on the feeder.
Physiological Adaptations. Their fair-weather cousins having long since departed, migrating for warmer climes and a more varied menu, the black-capped chickadees stay on, appearing as little puff balls at our bird feeder even on the coldest days of the winter. Chickadees aren't really built to take winter cold, but they thrive with unique adaptations to life.
Bigger is better when it comes to surviving winter without artificial heat. Just like a large cup of coffee cools more slowly than a small one, a bear retains body heat more efficiently than a fox. A fox needs to produce more heat relative to its body size to keep warm.
Weighing about as much as a handful of paper clips, a chickadee overcomes its size disadvantage with physical adaptations and by using their tiny, black-and-white heads. Beginning in late Summer, chickadees begin wedging seeds, insects and other food into tree bark and other crevices.
Unlike squirrels, who create massive mounds of spruce cones for munching later, chickadees "scatter hoard." They leave thousands of seeds cached throughout the half-mile range in which they spend their entire life. Later in the winter, perhaps when a bird feeder runs out of sunflower seeds, chickadees are somehow able to find the seeds they cached months earlier.
Chickadees have a fantastic memory. Studies of chickadee brains reveal that the volume of the hippocampus, an area of the brain linked with memory, varies with the season. In fall, when a chickadee is hiding food, the hippocampus expands. In the spring, when there's no more need to find cached food, it contracts.
In addition to brains that bulge with the season, chickadees physically adjust to a cold climate in many ways. In fall, they begin shivering. Although it's not visible at the bird feeder, chickadees' chest muscles, called the pectoralis, repeatedly flex to generate heat. That heat is contained by the air trapped within a chickadee's downy coat.
A chickadee's feathers are amazingly efficient. When it's way below zero outside, a chickadee's feathers rise to create an inch-thick coat that provides a halo of warmth. The difference in temperature of the chickadee's body core and the environment an inch away is over 100 degrees.
Feeding and Metabolism. Unlike other species birds that winter over in arctic climates, chickadees don't have an internal bag for storing food, called a crop. Instead, chickadees must eat small meals, digest them, then eat again. Because they only feed in daylight, their window of opportunity is woefully small in winter.
To compensate, they eat as much as they can, adding fat each day that amounts to 10 percent of their body weight and burning it at night. This is like a 150-pound person eating enough to weigh 165 by day's end, then using enough energy at night to be back to 150 by the morning. It's a huge physiological feat.
Where chickadees spend the night is a mystery. We don't see them on the bare hardwood branches where they seem to rest all day between feedings, but experts believe they ball themselves up in a crevice or cavity by themselves. Maybe they're in the open machine shed where we can't see them or perhaps they roost in the spruce branches at woods edge behind the barn.
Once they settle in for the night, chickadees turn down their internal thermostats to save energy, experts say. From a normal body temperature of about 108 degrees, chickadees cool down to about 90 degrees when roosting. Despite the energy savings of this method, the same chickadee experts advise that in winter it's almost impossible to find a fat chickadee in the early morning.
Winter Over, Nesting. The small winter flock will start to break up in pairs and leave the group in early spring. The males will then start to define their breeding territories. Black-capped chickadees are monogamous and their bond with a mate will last for several years, if not for life.
Together the pair will excavate a nesting site. The nesting site usually is excavated in a tree with a soft, partially rotten wood such as birch. The wood chips produced during excavation will be taken away by the chickadees. The cavity excavation will take 7 to 10 day. The female will then construct the nest out of fur, moss and wool inside the cavity. This will take the female another 3 to 5 days to complete.
Eggs are laid within days of nest completion. Incubation of the egg is exclusively done by the female and starts when the next-to-last egg is laid. During the stages of egg laying and incubation, the male often will feed the female. The eggs will hatch 11-13 days after being laid. The female will brood the young birds for a few days after being hatched. After the eggs are hatched the male and female will search for food together for the newborns. The young are ready to leave the nest as early as 12 days after being hatched. For the next 2 to 4 weeks, the young birds will be fed by the parents. The average life span of a black-capped chickadee is 2½ years.
Sources and Links.
[ http://www.gi.alaska.edu/ScienceForum/ASF12/1258.html ]
[ http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/parus/p._atricapillus ]
[ http://www.tc.cornell.edu/Birds/black.capped.chickadee.html and http://www.fifthdaycreations.com/article/bcchickadee.asp]
[ http://home.jtan.com/~jack/ckd.html ] or [ http://www.chickadee-web.com/ ]
Fourpeaks Chickadee Bird Feeder. The culmination of many years observing and feeding our native Northcountry chickadees, our Black-capped Chickadee Bird Feeder is designed for maximum comfort for the feeding birds and improved convenience and viewing pleasure for the human provider. And it's (very) low cost.
Hierarchical and aggressive in the winter flocking situation, birds will feed only one at a time from commercial bird feeders. Young and timid individuals will veer off from the feeder if not vacant. Our four-sided, high-walled feeder enables birds to alight and feed on three sides of the feeder and it is common for 2 or 3 to be feeding at the same time, the approach of each individual shielded from the view of the others.
Two models of our Fourpeaks Chickadee Winter Feeder are picture here. Model-H2O-2.5g, a recycled water container, well suited for feeding several birds at a time and utterly simple, was difficult to refill. Model V.05, a covered wood box, more carpentry involved, enables easy refilling. Note bungey cord over top for security. The middle (box section) of the feeder holds 1.5gals. of seed, enough for many days, even with a large flock of ten or more. It is not fixed to the base, so cleaning is easy, and the large opening with the top removed facilitates filling the feeder quickly.
Chickadees thrive on Black Oil Sunflower Seed. Inexpensive and easily available, sunflower seeds are just the right size for the chickadees to hold upright in their claws and crack open with their beaks.
Window mounting heightens the pleasure of the experience. A continuous show of animal beauty, acrobatic flight and curious, alert activity when perched. There's pleasure, too, in the knowledge that well-fed chickadees survive the rigors of Winter and reproduce more successfully in the Spring. This natural hint may carry over as a model for human behavior.
Chickadees in Winter (Short, 19kb, chick.au)
Chickadees in Winter (Long, 90kb, chikwtr2.wav)
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