Wintering Flocks at the Feeder

Everyone should recognize this plump little bird, even if you aren’t an active bird watcher. It’s the Carolina Chickadee, which lives in Kentucky year-round. You will hear it chattering and scolding with it’s loud chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee.  They can be a real challenge to a photographer, since they fly away as soon as you find them in the lens.

During most of the year, Chickadees eat insects, hanging upside down on a branch to scavenge he lower sides of twigs and leaves. In the winter, insects are not to be found, so these small birds have learned to adjust their menus, and you can help. If you have bird feeders, be sure to keep them filled with sunflower seeds. Many wintering birds need the oil in these seeds to keep their metabolism going. If you hang a cake of suet, they love the fat there too. A well-fed chickadee will shiver all night long, even when fast asleep, just to keep warm. When the weather is really cold, some of the little birds have to go into a state of torpor to make it through the night. Their body temperature can drop from the daytime high of 108 degrees Fahrenheit to a low of 50 degrees Fahrenheit. It takes a lot less energy to keep a chickadee’s body at 50 degrees than at 108 degrees.

If your body went that cold for a night it would probably never get warm again. The same can happen to chickadees; over 70 percent do not survive their first year. Some chickadees live for 12 years, but most die before they are two and a half. The chickadee’s winter world is a harsh thankless place, and the death of another larger animal can help keep a flock of chickadees alive through the cold winter by scavenging.

White Breased Nuthatch
Tufted Titmouse

Chickadees are usually found with their buddies, the Nuthatches and Tufted Titmouse, all winter long. If you see one one them, you see the others in a short time. Chickadees are the “watch bird” of the backyard, calling out specific songs to alert the mixed flocks to the presence of predators. Then other bird species, such as nuthatches and small woodpeckers, may join chickadee mobs in the wild to drive off predators. This may suggest that other bird species also understand “chick-a-dee” warning calls.

Naturally yours,