Discover - Black-capped Chickadees Mating, Nesting, Feeding Habits

Attracting Black-capped Chickadees in winter may be as simple as setting up a bird feeder filled with Black-oil Sunflower seed.

These active little chickadee birds need to feed every day and can be depended on for showing up at the bird feeder every morning.

With some patience and a good winter coat, it's possible to train these birds to eat from your hand.

If you want these birds to nest in your yard, try placing a properly constructed Chickadee birdhouse mounted on a tree and you may have them raising young at your home.

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee Call Sound

What They Look Like

Black-capped Chickadees are members of the Titmouse family and measure about 5 inches long.

Most backyard bird watchers are familiar with its black cap, white cheeks, and black bib.

Chickadees can be friendly and are rarely bothered by a human's presence.

Many bird watchers have been able to hand-feed these little birds, especially during the winter.

Mating and Courtship Breeding Habits

By late winter or early spring, pairs break from their small winter flocks that have been feeding together through the cold months and begin selecting mates.

Chickadees are known for their distinctive calls and songs, which they use to communicate with each other.

During the breeding season, males will sing to attract females. The songs are thought to convey information about the singer's fitness and genetic quality.

Chickadees also use physical displays to attract mates. For example, males may puff out their feathers and hop around to show off their physical attributes.

Male chickadees may also offer food to females as a way to attract them. This behavior is known as "courtship feeding" and is thought to be a way for males to show their ability to provide for potential offspring.

Chickadee Nesting Habits

Once paired, the female will build the nest using moss and soft materials, taking about 4-5 days to complete.

The location of the nest may be in an old woodpecker hole or excavated in trees with soft or decaying interiors. Nests are anywhere from 5 to 20 feet above the ground.

The female will lay about six eggs that are white with speckles and she alone will incubate them and the eggs will hatch in 12 to 13 days.

During the incubation period, the male will bring food for her. He will also chase any other males out of the territory.

The Male Chickadee will call her from the nest, at which time she leaves the nest, and he feeds her.

Sometimes the female will leave the nest and call the male, and he will bring food for her to eat.

Occasionally, the female will feed on her own.

After the young hatch, the female will brood the young for the first few days. During this time, the male Chickadee continues to bring food.

Black-capped Chickadee Nesting Stats
Eggs 3 - 7
Incubation 12 - 13 days
Nestling Phase 16 days
Broods 1

After brooding, both the male and female share in feeding the young birds. The young will leave the nest in about 16 days.

About 10 days after fledging, the young can feed themselves but will stay with the adults for a total of 3 to 4 weeks. One, rarely two, broods are raised each season.

The nesting season begins in April and can go through June.

How Close Do Chickadees Nest to Each Other

If placing birdhouses for Black-capped Chickadees you'll need to keep the houses a minimum of 80 feet apart.

I've had Chickadees nesting within 100 feet of another pair but experts will suggest over 300 feet for best results.

Several factors come into play as to how close they'll nest to another pair. The scarcer the food, the further apart housing needs to be.

Placing feeders may help, but do not place them close to nest sites. The food you provide may attract predators that will eat the eggs and chicks.

Feeding Habits - What Chickadees Eat

The Black-capped Chickadees diet consists of insects, seeds, and berries. Eating large amounts of insect eggs and larvae during the nesting season.

Black-capped Chickadee

Chickadee at Birdfeeder

Often you'll see them hanging on the undersides of branches looking for insects.

Surprising to many, about 50 percent of their winter feeding habit is animal material (largely insects and insect larvae and egg cases) and up to 80 percent of their summer diet is animal.

Because they love to eat small caterpillars, chickadees do a great service by feeding on such pests as spruce budworms and cankerworms.

Black-capped chickadees cache food, storing both seeds and insects, singly, in crevices, or under structures on the ground such as twigs.

They can find them up to a month later, and when several caches are available, they spend more time seeking those that contain greater energy value.

You can attract these birds to your bird feeder by using two of their favorite types of food.

Chickadees love both suet and Black-oil sunflower seed.

Feeding Behavior

By watching these birds, you'll notice that only one bird feeds at a time. Each waits their turn at the feeder.

Since they stay during the winter, a Heated Birdbath would be helpful for their survival. All your winter birds need open water.

If using sunflower seed, consider adding a Squirrel Proof Feeder to your bird feeding station.

Watch as the Chickadee bird takes one seed, then flies to a nearby perch and eats the seed before returning for the next.

The reason for this behavior is that Black-capped Chickadees have small bills and need to peck the seed to open it and get the meat.

The most dominant birds feed first, while subdominant birds wait before feeding.

Dimensions For Building a Chickadee Birdhouse

Chickadees are cavity nesters and their nest in the wild will be found in wooded areas.

The nest is excavated in the soft, partially rotted wood of a tree trunk or broken limb. These birds are excellent candidates for man-made birdhouses.

The ideal size hole opening for the Black-capped Chickadee birdhouse is 1 1/8 inches in diameter.

The nest box should be about 8 inches in height with a floor size of 4 inches square. Drill 4 drainage holes in the floor.

The bottom of the entrance hole should be 4 to 6 inches above the floor of the house.

Face the house as close to the Northeast as you can to keep wind and rain out.

A really simple house for Chickadees can be made from a 4-inch PVC pipe.

Chickadees Checking out Birdhouse

Use a 4-inch inside diameter PVC pipe 8 inches long and drill the opening 2 inches below the top. Purchase two PVC caps.

Purchase two PVC caps, and attach one on the top of the house and one on the bottom with screws. Screws allow for easy cleaning.

Rough up the front below the hole to help the bird's grip but never use perches. Perches only help predators and the Chickadees don't need them.

Place the PVC house where it gets plenty of afternoon shade to keep it from getting too hot.

Locate any Chickadees Birdhouse 4-15 feet high. Place a few wood chips in the nesting box to encourage nesting.

They will not use the wood chips, but this may help in attracting them to the nest box.

They will have several nest site locations excavated before selecting the one they use.

Should predators become a problem, the nesting pair will abandon the nest and build a new one some distance away.

Chickadees - Late Summer And Winter Behavior Habits

After the end of the nesting season when the young have left the nest, look for these birds to gather into small flocks of a dozen or fewer.

Chickadees tend to remain on or near their breeding ground throughout the winter.

Each flock contains some juveniles, some adult pairs, and some single adults.

Black-capped Chickadee range map

The flocks form around a dominant pair and establish a feeding territory in which it defends against other flocks.

In more northern regions during cold weather, Chickadees (as well as other birds) often puff out their plumage, looking like a fat ball of feathers.

This is a heat-conserving mechanism as more air is trapped around the down feathers, which increases insulation and prevents the loss of body heat.

They can also constrict blood vessels in the skin, which further reduces heat loss.

If these mechanisms are not sufficient to maintain their body temperature (about 110 degrees F.), they can generate additional heat by shivering.

Unfortunately, this is only a temporary measure, as it requires the metabolism of food reserves.

During cold winter nights when temperatures drop and food reserves are low, Chickadees have a final trick up their sleeve. They enter a state of torpor.

This depresses bodily functions, including breathing and metabolism, and drops body temperature by about ten degrees. This significantly decreases the need for food reserves.

These small flocks are joined by other species of birds as they move through their feeding territory.

Some of these other species you'll see them with are Downy Woodpeckers, Tufted Titmice, and White-Breasted Nuthatches.

The flock stays together from August through February. After which, the Black-capped Chickadees begin a new season.

Black-capped Chickadee Lifespan

Just when you think nothing new happens in the birding world, you find a new record is recorded.

In Minnesota, the year 2011, Ornithologist Michael North re-captured a bird he had banded 9 years ago.

The bird was a two-year-old at the time of banding, which makes the bird 11 years and 6 months of age.

The old lifespan record was 11 years and 2 months. I know, not a lot of difference. Still, it's a record.

The common lifespan of these birds is only 2 to 3 years. Only about 20 percent of the young that are born in any year will make it past their first year.

Birds that survive their first full year will have the skills needed for future survival.

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