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Birds and Wildlife

Chickadees
Polly Adcock
February 2021

There are three kinds of Chickadees that are known to live in western Washington. Likely the most identifiable is the Black-capped variety which has made print on greeting cards and women's clothing, including socks. It even made the Bird Clock with its “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” (probably the only bird sound any of us can imitate). This Chickadee resides all over the northern half of the U.S., Canada and all the way to Alaska.

The Chestnut-backed Chickadee is considered the most colorful with its brown back and rump with chestnut wash on its flanks and under its tail. This bird makes a “chip-chip-chip-chip” like a sparrow. It resides along the Pacific Coast, from California to Alaska.

The Mountain Chickadee looks somewhat like the Black-capped BUT it has a white eyebrow on its gray-black head with light gray on its underneath side. It makes a throaty “chick-adee-adee-adeeadee” and prefers to live in the mountains. However, if there is a food shortage, it will show up at feeders in lower elevations. They are not listed as being in the ONP or on the Pacific NW Coast.

We are the only country to call these birds Chickadees. Instead, other countries refer to them as “tits” meaning small birds, such as titmouse, bushtit.

The Chickadees are cavity nesters but this “prime real estate” has become scarce because of TIDY landowners so these birds will use a bird box.

They are monogamous with both building a nest. If the female is disturbed while brooding, she will make a hissing sound like a snake.

The 1990 edition of the Reader's Digest, Book of North American Birds gave most of its print to the behavior of these birds after the nesting season is over. The Black-capped will form a flock of eight to a dozen birds which will roost and forage together until Spring. They search for insects and pupae among trees and shrubs and share their discovery of food. Also, many eyes in the flock work together to detect danger. The one who spots a predator gives a warning note and the whole flock freezes. They will make thin ventriloquially notes confusing the predator as to where its prey is located. When the predator moves on, there is an “all’s well” note which brings them back to life.

The Chestnut-backed will travel with these Chickadees as well as Kinglets, Nuthatches, Creepers, Warblers, Juncos and Titmice. This multi species flock is called a bird guild. They don't seem to get in each other’s food supply. Some forage up the tree, some down the tree, some on a main branch while others prefer the tips of branches. Some birds prefer one insect to another and even one size insect to another. They all profit from their predator defense system.

Amazing! And they were only given a tiny brain.