January 25, 2013 Comments Off on Dee-dee-dee!

January 25, 2013

Brrrrr! After being worried about no ice on Lake Superior last week, things are definitely moving in the right direction ice wise this week! Much improved on the ice front- though will see for myself this weekend how much change there has been. The ice report sure looks better these days- though we are a long ways from being even 25% covered.

I’ve been helping out when I can with FeederWatch at Hartley Nature Center in Duluth this winter. There is something very healthy about settling in on one task and observing what is happening in nature, even when it is a human impacted situation like a bird feeder. I typically spend at least an hour a day for two days straight watching to see what species visit the feeder and keep track of the highest number seen at one time at the feeder, or in this case feeder station. Time passes quickly.

As I walked into the nature center yesterday, with the temperature well below zero and a good stiff wind making you feel the cold all the more, I ended up in a whistle fest with a brave, bold young male Chickadee singing his spring song for everyone to hear. Fee-bee, and my considerably less talented fee-bee whistled answer. Despite my lack of ability, we kept this up until I reached the building and entered to begin the job of seeing who was out there today. The most frequent visitors to the feeders are these feisty little Black-capped Chickadees, and they almost always come in groups, rarely one at a time.

Keeping track of how many Chickadee are visiting a feeder station at one time is a bit of a trick, since they always swoop in, grab their single seed and swoop right on out to either peck their way into the seed right away, or hide it in a cache for later consumption. With a whole flock acting the same way counting can be a challenge. How time flies, or a more accurate description might be how Chickadees fly! I find myself wondering how this can possibly be an efficient feeding habit, but obviously it works because they have been doing this for longer than I can remember.

Current research seems to agree that Chickadees need to consume about 60% of their body weight (which typically is between 10-12 grams, a little over 4/ 10ths of an ounce) in a single day to provide enough energy to survive when the temperature dips below zero. This is estimated to be about 250 black oil sunflower seeds per day. In milder weather, they can get by on a mere 150. That’s a lot of trips to the feeder! They are also known to cache food for later consumption, and usually have many places in their regular range where they store extra food. Researchers have learned that they can maintain memory of where all of these different caches are, and roughly how much food of which type, is in each cache for a period of up to 28 days. That’s pretty organized for such a little bird.

Normal body temperature for a Chickadee is about 10 degrees warmer than humans at 108 degrees Fahrenheit. During exceptionally cold nights they are able to reduce their core temperature to about 85 degrees, which is estimated to cut their energy consumption by about 25%, a fair number of seeds. They roost most often in cavities of trees or in dense vegetation, and most often by themselves, though some scientists would say that they have been found to roost in groups occasionally.

Chickadees are definitely the guardians of the forest, keeping track of everything that’s going on and always communicating what they think. Their normal everyday mode of communication Chick-a-dee-dee-dee provides messages to everyone in the vicinity. Many forest residents take their cues from the Chickadees. The more dees on the end of the call the greater the amount of excitement. At times the Chick-a portion of the call disappears altogether in favor of many dee-dee-dees, up to 20 in a row! They are the first to arrive when something is going on, and not shy about remaining to keep track of happenings in their neck of the woods.

Anyone who has handled Chickadees knows that these little birds demand your respect, even if they are small. One can always expect pecks and bites and clawing going on with these little ones. As a bander, you know what you are in for everytime you hold one of these little warriors in your hand, but they remain a wonder to behold and leave us with many puzzles to figure out- such as telling males from females during the non-breeding season. How much moving around to Chickadees do? We know that some move to other locations further south than their summer range, while others seem to be home bodies and stay put in one area.

We’ve much to learn about these wonders of energy and efficiency, and I for one can never get enough of seeing, hearing, watching and banding these amazing birds. Hope we’ve added a few fun bits to your Chickadee fun facts list, and I encourage you to enjoy their presence whenever you can!

These updates are made possible by a generous donation from David and Rosemary Good.