Black-capped chickadees are one of the most commonly recognized backyards bird in Northern Ohio. Their inquisitive behavior and friendly demeanor make them a perfect visitor to any backyard birdfeeder. They are found year round in deciduous and evergreen forest, forest edges, parks, wetlands, thickets and disturbed areas.
Black-capped chickadees spend most of their day searching for food. At feeders they devour sunflower seeds, peanuts, suet, peanut butter and mealworms. On trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants they move along stems and branches searching in and out of crevices for small invertebrates. In winter, insect and spider eggs make up half their diet while seeds, berries and other plant matter account for the other half. In spring and summer, insects, spiders and small invertebrates make up 80-90 percent of their diet. When food is plentiful, late summer and fall, the chickadees hoard food. They stash food under bark or in patches of lichen. A single chickadee may stockpile hundreds of food items in a day; placing each item in a different spot. Chickadees can remember thousands of food hiding places. They can retrieve the food item with almost perfect accuracy 24 hours later. Some birds can even remember the location of their cache for up to 28 days after hiding.
Black-capped chickadees maintain a territory during breeding season. They will call out to identify themselves, to recognize other flocks and to give predator alarms to other birds including a different species. The more dee notes in a chickadee-dee-dee call, the greater the threat level.
In early April to mid-May, black-capped chickadees excavate a cavity in soft or rotten wood in dead or hollowed out trees. Both male and female chickadees excavate a cavity in a site usually selected by the female. The cavity averages 8 inches deep and 2-3 inches wide; the female builds the cup-shaped nest out of grass and moss, and lines it with softer material such as hair, wool, feathers and spider cocoons. The presence of available trees which can be excavated, determine the chickadee’s choice of nesting area. If soft wood is not available, they will use existing woodpecker holes, natural cavities and man-made nest boxes.
Black-capped chickadees females lay 6-8, sometimes up to 13, white to creamy eggs. Incubation begins with the last eggs laid for 12-13 days. Young are tended by both parents and leave the nest after 16 days. Fledglings remain with the adult for 21-28 days after leaving the nest.
What you can do to help? An average life span on a black-capped chickadee is 2.5 years. Chickadees require dead upright trees to ensure stable populations. Black-capped chickadees can suffer when land owners cut down dead trees. By keeping dead trees upright and incorporating bird feeding station, the black-capped chickadee will continue to survive and thrive in the changing world.