Bird Feeding Tips
Tips on attracting and feeding backyard birds.
Stars of Your Feeder Theater – Part 1 of 2
With the onset of winter, the curtain rises on the theater of your backyard feeders! And the stars of the show are the chickadees, those active and agile, highly personable, feathered performers. Traveling in small flocks like itinerant actors, these happy go-lucky troupers brighten many a gray day with their acrobatic antics.
In spite of their tiny size, chickadees are among the hardiest of birds, ranging to the limits of forest growth in the frosty far north. In the United States, one can see five species of chickadees: the Black-capped, the Carolina, the Mexican, the Mountain and Chestnut-backed.
Chickadees appear to greet winter with all the zest of a child with a new sled, but the season is actually hard on chickadees. More than 70% of young birds do not survive their first year. “To the chickadee”, wrote Aldo Leopold, “winter wind is the boundary of the habitable world.” But chickadees have a secret adaptation weapon to fight the cold: they are among a small group of avian species which can decrease their body temperature at night to conserve energy, a process called regulated hypothermia. At night while at rest, chickadees can cool off from 108 degrees Fahrenheit to about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. During cold winter nights, chickadees usually roost singly, often in dense conifer trees or tree cavities. They will also use nest boxes, especially roosting boxes, to keep warm.
Mountain Chickadee by Windy Rae.
During a cold winter day, you may see chickadees fluffed up, as fat as tennis balls. The fluffed feathers trap warm air – the bird’s own body heat – which provides insulation. A chickadee’s dark head and back also help keep it warm – those areas gather additional heat from the winter sun.
Next time: Winter diet and feeding behaviors.