Looking for signs of life in February? Check out a bird feeder or look out the window. You’ll be delighted to see all kinds of birds flitting around, including the black-capped chickadee.
They’re so much fun to watch as they duck and dodge around branches looking for food. They’re curious about almost everything, including humans, which means this “cute” fluffy bird might let you hang out for a while.
How to spot a chickadee
There are lots of different kinds of chickadees. The most common type found here in Will County in the winter is the black-capped chickadee. As the name implies, the top of their heads are black, and they also looks like they have black bibs under their beaks. They have white cheeks and whitish undersides with a gray back, wings and tails.
We call them cute thanks to their oversized heads and rounded bodies, a feature that helps them survive winter. They fluff out their feathers, making them look even rounder, to make space for air. The air then gets trapped next to their bodies, which is warmed up by their body heat. Think of it like a comforter. It’s added insulation!
What’s on the menu?
Chickadees are always moving, nabbing insects at any stage — eggs, larvae, pupae or adults. But you’d be hard pressed to find an insect this time of year. The wintertime menu is filled with winter berries, seeds and acorns. They can stash food to eat later. Each delicious morsel is placed in a different hiding spot — and they can remember thousands of different food storage spots.
Maybe you’re looking to attract chickadees to your birdfeeders. Sunflower seeds are a great choice. They also love peanuts and suet. All that added fat gives them extra energy to help keep them going in the cold.
Songbirds gotta sing
Just listen for a minute when a chickadee is around. Their calls are complex and almost like their own language. They send out information about who they are and threats to the group.
You might hear a chick-a-dee-dee-dee call. The more dee notes they add to the end, the more alarmed they are. Black-capped chickadees will make a high-pitched seeee call when there is real danger around. All the other birds in their flock will freeze until they get the chick-a-dee-dee all-clear call. These precautionary calls add to their long lives. Some chickadees have been known to live more than 10 years!
During this time of year, listen for their song: a swinging, two note fee-bee. You can hear it in late winter, spring and summer, when the birds are courting and nesting. Discover the different songs and calls for yourself before you go outside.
Watch for chickadees to choose a space in a rotting hole or abandoned tree cavity for a nest. The female will build a cup-shaped nest with moss as the base, then lined with rabbit fur. They have one brood a year of about eight eggs.
Birds of a flock
Chickadees like to flock together, especially in the winter when there aren’t leaves to hide them from predators. They feed together, often with other small songbirds like nuthatches and titmice. Downy woodpeckers even like to feed with chickadees because they give warning when danger is near.
Whether you’re looking at the birds through a window or hiking through a preserve, now is the time to enjoy these charming birdfeeder regulars. Don’t forget to keep your ears open to their calls!
Take your education further
Do you really love birds, but want to learn more? Check out Birding by Sight and Sound for Kids from 1 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday, February 23, at Thorn Creek Nature Center. The program is for kids ages 7 to 12. The deadline to register is Friday, February 21. Call 708-747-6320 to register.
The Forest Preserve District offers plenty of bird hikes and events throughout the year. Check out our event calendar to discover the right one for you!
Calling all teachers! It’s not too late to bring your students up to speed with the Junior Winter Birds Series. The Forest Preserve District of Will County will come to your classroom for three visits. Students will learn about local birds, set up a birdfeeder to watch, participate in citizen science and experiment with different types of beaks to understand feeding in different ecosystems. Sign up today!
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