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Nature Notes: Cuddle up to a Chickadee


By Katrina Froese

While we get to curl up with a cup of tea inside on a winter day, outside on the bird feeder, a flock of hardy chickadees are busy eating seeds. How exactly do they survive a frigid Manitoba winter? Quite simply, chickadees boast an amazing combination of adaptations to get them through to spring.

  1. Chickadees have great insulation.
    A chickadee’s feathers weigh in at about 10% of their body mass. This would be like a 200 lb man wearing a 20 lb jacket! Chickadees also spend the night in tree cavities, where they enter regulated hypothermia, dropping to roughly 8 degrees below normal body temperature to conserve energy.
  2. Chickadees are smart eaters.
    In fall, chickadees begin to cache seeds, and remember each storage location for up to one month. While half of their winter diet is comprised of seeds and berries, the other half is made up of frozen insect larvae, a good source of fat. A chickadee puts on about 10% of their weight in fat every single day to get them through the night. When a blizzard approaches, chickadees get prepared by going into a feeding frenzy. How can they tell a storm is approaching? The trigger sensors in a chickadee's middle ear can detect the dropping barometric pressure as the storm approaches.
  3. Chickadees know how to work together.
    During winter, chickadees flock in groups that include local breeding adults and young that dispersed in fall. Those extra sets of eyes help so much in the hunt for food that other birds, such as nuthatches, have learned to follow chickadees around.

Though chickadees aren’t dependent on bird feeders, providing sunflower seeds and suet will keep your backyard flock stronger. And who doesn’t love having something to watch while they curl up with a cup of tea?

For a great chickadee read, check out The Black-capped Chickadee by Susan M. Smith. Better yet, stop by FortWhyte Alive this weekend to get a closer look at these fascinating birds!



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