10 December 2010

The Black-Capped Chickadee

Not all birds migrate south for the winter. Some stay here in Montana and bear through the cold winter months. One of these birds is the well-known black-capped chickadee. Chickadees may be seen in your yard all year long. In winter they will form foraging flocks with nuthatches, titmice, and even woodpeckers.

But how is it that chickadees can survive through the winter? The chickadee's greatest obstacle is staying warm. The trick to doing this is eating as many calories during the day as they can, which will be metabolized for body heat. If they do not find enough food during they day, they will not make it through the cold night. Black-capped chickadees have another trick for surviving the winter nights: they can lower their body temperatures by up to 14 degrees Fahrenheit at night to save energy. The bird is able to drop its body temperature because of its ability to decrease its metabolic rates. The fewer calories that the chickadee burns, the less energy it creates. Less energy means a lower body temperature. However, the black-capped chickadee only does this on the coldest of nights.

One challenge for chickadees is that along with an increased need for food comes a decrease in the types of food which are available. During the summer, a chickadee’s diet consists mostly of insects, fruits, and seeds. However, during the winter months, fruits and insects become scarce, forcing chickadees to rely primarily on seeds. Seeds are high in fat and are found all year round. For this reason, the chickadee has adapted its beak over time to become perfect at cracking small nuts.

Did you know that chickadees also scavenge for dead animals? Chickadees eat fat from dead animals whose bodies have been opened up by larger predators. The fat is an excellent source of calories for the bird when times get tough.

When it comes to surviving the winter months, chickadees are one of the most resourceful birds around. By adapting their diet, metabolism, and behavior, chickadees can survive in almost any region.  Make sure to look out for these little guys as you're out and about this winter!


  1. First sign of spring? I heard my first "fee bee bee" chickadee love songs on January 27th...

  2. I never see any birds in MT in the winter. Where do they hide?

  3. I never see any birds in MT in the winter. Where do they hide?