Written By Tom Foulkrod.

Posted on September 26th, 2016.

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It’s not opinion that chickadees are the best. It’s fact. Let me give you three reasons why.


If you read my post about a certain chickadee named Tail-Less, you know I’m a little biased in favor of these birds. They’re one of the first birds my dad taught me to identify, and they’re on a short list of ones that have eaten out of my hand.

But it’s not just those childhood experiences that make chickadees my favorite birds. Turns out it’s not opinion that chickadees are the best. It’s fact. Let me give you three reasons why.

Reason #1: Social

For most of the year, chickadees live in small family flocks that move together foraging for insects and seeds. The only time chickadees aren't in groups is when they pair off to raise their young. I've observed different flocks of chickadees that meet, join up for a while, and then divide back up as they continue in their original directions.

Chickadee flocks also readily pick up other species of birds. Nuthatches, woodpeckers, brown creepers, titmice, and kinglets will all hang out with chickadee flocks now and then. These birds don't simply “occupy the same space,” but seem to share some temporary companionship as they move together in a woodlot foraging up and down trees and shrubs in constant communication.

Reason #2: Curious

Chickadees may not be the only curious animals—cats come to mind—but thanks to their wings, they tend to be the first ones on scene whenever something unusual happens in the woods. They don't panic or avoid loud noises; they investigate! Fire a gun. Start a chainsaw. More often than not, you will draw in chickadees. This is the exact opposite of how most wildlife react in these situations.

Reason #3: Resourceful

Winter. Humans stock firewood and the pantry to survive it. Some animals build calorie reserves and hibernate. Most birds relocate south to easier conditions. Not chickadees. These tiny birds (they weigh less than half an ounce!) resourcefully endure it.

Chickadees tough out winter in a couple ways. They've adapted to store food as fat (up to 8% of their body weight each day) that they metabolize through the night to survive. This daily fat accumulation can be critical to survive even a single long winter night (remember, in July there are 15 hours of daylight for chickadees to find food, but in winter they often have fewer than 9 hours to do the same).

Another way chickadees survive freezing conditions is by dropping their body temperature overnight so they can stretch their reserves over a longer period. They also have very dense feathers compared to most other birds their size. When they rest, they fluff out their feathers and tuck in their heads, giving them a ball shape that helps to insulate body heat. Finally, they’ll seek out tree cavities or other shelter to escape the wind.

So now you know why chickadees are the best. If you want to see more of these amazing birds, it’s easy. Since chickadees don’t migrate, they’re a common sight at winter birdfeeders. At my home, I put out suet from October through April, and the chickadees love it. I currently have commercial suet blocks, but I’ve used raw beef suet too. In my opinion, commercial blocks are advantageous because they don't require refrigeration. The downside of commercial suet is the plastic packaging material and the presence of seeds that may attract rodents like mice and squirrels. Whichever you use, though, prepare to see more of the best birds there are!

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