Mobbed by Chickadees

black capped chickadee, robin follette, robins outdoors, maine state bird

The black capped chickadee is Maine’s state bird.

The black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) is our state bird.

Have you ever noticed how big the chickadee’s head is in comparison to its body? It’s the Charlie Brown of song birds. At 4.5″ to 6″ and only up to one-half ounce, chickadees are small birds. The widening white streak between their black cap and bib make them easy to distinguish from Carolina chickadees. They have gray and black wings, tail and back with a tan and white underside, and a short, thick beak. By written description, they sound like a small version of the a Canada jay.

You’ll find chickadees living most every where. They nest in cavities they make in hardwood trees usually alders and birch according to All About Birds, or in abandoned Downy woodpecker nests. They’ll sometimes choose a nest box rather than a tree, especially if you put wood shavings they can excavate. They have one clutch of up to 13 eggs and nest only once a year. Incubation takes 12-13 days, and fledglings leave the nest within 16 days. Sixteen days isn’t very long to grow your feathers, strengthen your wings and leave the nest.

Erin Merrill and I were talking about the things you notice when you’re sitting still in the tree stand for hours. Being mobbed by chickadees is one of my favorite things. You can hear them coming. There are extra “dees” on their call, a sign of alarm. Chickadees travel in flocks so you’ll hear one alarm, then another, and another as they move in, getting closer, calling their concern out to not only other chickadees but to other species that share the same space. They land up close and personal (another similarity to Canada jays) and stay until they satisfy their curiosity. And then, just like that, they’re gone.

In addition to the “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” we all know, chickadee calls are “fee-bee,” one that used to make me think the phoebes were back unusually early in the spring. I heard a singing male this afternoon, about two weeks earlier than usual. I’ve never heard their high pitched, immediate danger call.

Black capped chickadees on a feeder, Robin Follette, Robin's Outdoors

Got anything good over there?

The black-capped chickadee’s diet consists of a 50/50 mix of plants and meat. Their meat is spiders (explains their fluttering against windows), insects and fat and meat from frozen animal carcasses. At my feeding station they prefer black oil sunflower seeds and suet. Most of the time they choose a seed and leave to eat it elsewhere. They arrive at the feeding station in flocks with one or two coming to the feeders while the rest land in the dormant hydrangea bushes. They take turns flying back and forth. Although traveling in flocks, they’re a bit territorial. Chickadees can remember thousands of places they’ve hidden food.

There are more pictures on my personal website.

I’m not a great birder. I observe often. My desk sits in front of a window and the feeding station is only five feet away. Information I haven’t gathered myself is taken from All About Birds.

Robin Follette

About Robin Follette

Maine Press Association award winner, 2013. Robin's Outdoors, Bangor Daily News, third place in Sports blogs. I grew up with a fishing pole in my hand and have always loved the outdoors. From gardening to hunting and fishing, kayaking, camping, hiking and foraging, most of my time is spent outdoors. I teach outdoor skills as a volunteer instructor for Hooked On Fishing - Not On Drugs and Becoming an Outdoors-Woman. Pro-staff at The Limb Grip. My personal blog is here. I'm currently working on my first book, a collection of short stories based on my outdoors experiences.