The two species of chickadees here on the Colorado Front Range are year round residents, however their prevalence at your feeders changes seasonally. Chickadees form small mixed flocks of 6-8 members fall through spring, and will visit your suet feeder and seed feeders repeatedly. During the summer, chickadees break into pairs for nesting season and eat primarily insects, but supplement their diet with seed.
Did you know? Chickadees really need your help during the winter. They require twenty (20!) times as much food in the coldest months as they do in the summer. Your feeders can be a very welcome supplement to their natural diet.
Most of the year, you will find the Mountain Chickadee at higher elevations in the mixed conifer forests of the foothills, while the Black-capped Chickadee hangs out on the fringe where forest meets plains.
Sunflower, safflower, and shelled peanuts are among favorite foods for chickadees. Recommended blend: Rocky Mountain High. Like Nuthatches, they don’t have the bill mechanism to simply crack the shell open at the feeder. Instead, they wedge the seed into a crevice and hammer open the seeds. So place feeders close enough to trees so that chickadees can grab and dash. Suet is attractive, too, and these nimble birds easily cling to suspended feeders.
Fun Fact! Chickadees will “mob” a stationary predator such as a hawk, owl, or cat, vociferously recruiting more chickadees, and even other species of birds, to harass the now exposed potential threat. Listen for loud chatter and watch for high activity, then look for the object at the center of all the commotion.
Identification: The Black-capped Chickadee is just that: Gray, with black cap and throat, white cheeks. Mountain Chickadee is similar, but with a white stripe above they eye. Juveniles and females share the same plumage.
Size: Smaller than a sparrow.
Similar Birds: Chickadees are nearly unmistakable. White-breasted Nuthatch is larger, with longer beak and white throat, and perches in the vertical plane more often than on a branch.
Average life span in the wild: Average lifespan is about 6 years, but the record is 12 years.
Habitat & Range: Black-capped Chickadee occurs throughout Colorado; Mountain Chickadee is confined to western Colorado and the Front Range.
Nesting: Chickadees nest in holes in dead trees, but will use birdhouses specifically designed for them. Amazingly, Black-capped Chickadees can excavate their own holes; Mountain Chickadees need very soft wood in order to excavate, so they usually rely on existing cavities. Females line the nest with soft material like animal hair to cushion her 6-8 eggs (5-9 for Mountain). There is one brood each year, requiring 12-15 days for incubation. Nestlings fledge in 12-16 days (17-23 days for Mountain Chickadee).
Song & Calls: Chickadees, our beloved backyard characters, change how they sound in late winter into Spring during mating times. Everyone is familiar with the fun "chickadee-dee-dee" call, but listen carefully for the soft "fee-bee" song. The second note is one full tone lower. Chickadees start singing in mid to late January, and sing with more frequency as Spring approaches. However, their song is rarely heard during other times of the year (sometimes hear in fall when they are assembling their winter flocks). When you do hear their song outside of breeding, it is usually a lazy, abbreviated version which breaks into their call at the end. Late winter to early springs is when you hear more of their pure song, and is repeated for longer durations. See this external link for a fun audio of their song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xX48Xv09HBI&feature=youtu.be&t=39s
Fun Fact! Chickadees will sometimes add more “dee-dee’s” to the call when alarmed or excited.
- dee - dee!
Black-capped (Poecile atricapillus) Mountain (Poecile gambeli)