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BLANE KLEMEK OUTDOORS: Black-capped chickadees are hardy, resourceful birds

Though chickadees can and do readily accept our generous offerings of seed and suet, they are well-equipped to take advantage of whatever Mother Nature has to offer.

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Well adapted to whatever Minnesota can dish out for harsh weather, chickadees will actively seek out natural cavities, bird houses, and other structures—natural or human made—to spend the day or night inside during inclement weather.
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In roughly two months, it’ll be springtime once again in the Northland. Looking outside now, however, it’s hard to imagine. Ice on the lakes continues to get thicker, snow continues to build, and just as sure as you’re reading these words, bitter cold will come again before it’s all done.

Even so, we’re already seeing subtle signs of a winter that’s slowly waning. Days are getting noticeably longer and male black-capped chickadees have begun singing their fee-bee songs.

Few wild birds delight me more than the happy-go-lucky chickadee. A bird that seems to go about its daily business in a carefree fashion, chickadees always appear to be having fun.

Even their names, chickadee, convey merriment. It’s fun to say! “Chickadee-dee-dee-dee,” they say.

One of the most common birds at our backyard bird feeding stations, black-capped chickadees are also one of the most widely distributed birds in North America. Occurring in all of the northern-tier states, Canada, and parts of Alaska, too, there just aren’t many places where chickadees aren’t found.

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One of seven chickadee species on the continent, only the black-capped and boreal chickadees call Minnesota home. Known for their gregarious, docile and inquisitive nature, it’s no wonder chickadees are beloved by all. And what’s not to like and appreciate about chickadees?

Just a few days ago, while pouring black-oil sunflower seeds into the feeder, I held out an open palm full of seed for any and all comers. And it wasn’t long until a chickadee landed on my hand, quickly snapped up a seed and flew off with its prize. What a delight!

One might wonder how these tiny birds survive Minnesota’s long and brutal winters, much less wonder why they don’t simply migrate to warmer climates like so many other birds do. That these mighty mites choose to live year-round here in Minnesota is one of the many reasons we enjoy this little bird so much.

Though chickadees can and do readily accept our generous offerings of seed and suet, they are well-equipped to take advantage of whatever Mother Nature has to offer. In the wintertime, chickadees feast on all kinds of available natural foods that include seeds, fruits, insects and fat/meat. If you spend enough time in the great outdoors beyond the backyard feeders, you’ll observe chickadees foraging for all kinds of natural foods in a multitude of interesting and entertaining ways.

These social birds move about in forests, woodlands and field edges in small flocks of a dozen or so while calling softly to each other as they search and secure a variety of foodstuffs. Once this past fall, while sitting quietly on a deer stand, I watched as half a dozen or so chickadees leapfrogged one another on their way through the area. Each bird, intent on finding food, seemed to find things to eat with little effort or difficulty.

I watched one chickadee alight on the stem of goldenrod just below the bulbous gall of the plant. For a short time, the bird pecked at the gall until it reached the morsel it was after the larvae of a goldenrod gall fly.

How on earth do chickadees know that inside a goldenrod gall is something good and nutritious to eat? It’s a mystery to be sure. They can’t smell it, see it or hear it, yet they somehow know. Amazing.

Well-adapted to whatever Minnesota can dish out for harsh weather, chickadees will actively seek out natural cavities, bird houses, and other structures—natural or human made—to spend the day or night inside during inclement weather.

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Sometimes alone but often with others, chickadees will huddle together to take advantage of one another’s body heat to stay warm and comfortable. Smart and resourceful, rest assured that the chickadee is a hardy bird despite its diminutive size.

Black-capped chickadees, common as they are, are warm and welcoming wild birds. Lucky we are that they’re all about us as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.

Blane Klemek is a Minnesota DNR wildlife manager. He can be reached at bklemek@yahoo.com.

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Related Topics: BLANE KLEMEKNORTHLAND OUTDOORSOUTDOORS RECREATION
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