October High Desert Bird of the Month: Mountain Chickadee
The tiny Mountain Chickadee is a busy presence overhead in the dry evergreen forests of the mountainous West. Often the nucleus in mixed flocks of small birds, Mountain Chickadees flit through high branches, hang upside down to pluck insects or seeds from cones, and give their scolding chick-a-dee call seemingly to anyone who will listen.
Like all chickadees, the Mountain Chickadee is black-and-white on the head, but gray elsewhere. The white stripe over the eye distinguishes Mountain Chickadees from all other chickadees. They are active and acrobatic birds, clinging to small limbs and twigs or hanging upside down from pine cones. In winter, Mountain Chickadees flock with kinglets and nuthatches, the birds following each other one by one from tree to tree.
Mountain Chickadees eagerly come to feeders. Like many feeder birds, they will often disregard millet in bird seed mixes. Feed them black oil sunflower seeds instead. In winter, they'll also eat suet and peanut butter.
Their primary diet is insects, spiders, conifer seeds, and berries. During fall and winter, they rely heavily on conifer seeds. During the breeding season, insects, especially caterpillars, become more important. They cling to the undersides of branches and to tree trunks, searching for food in the bark or breaking seeds open by hammering them with their beaks.
Their call is a throaty chick-adee-dee-dee, while their song is a 3- or 4-note descending whistle fee-bee-bay or fee-bee-fee-bee. They travel in pairs or small groups, and may join multi-species feeding flocks after breeding season.
During the breeding season Mountain Chickadees are territorial, but will join mixed-species flocks in winter, and tend to form pair bonds within the winter flocks. Chickadees forage by hopping on outer twigs and branches and gleaning the surfaces or probing into crevices for food. They often hang upside-down to get at the undersides of branches, cones, and needles.
They will occasionally hover and will come to seed and suet feeders. They store food in the fall and retrieve it later in winter.
Mountain Chickadees are monogamous and form long-term pair bonds.
A group of chickadees are collectively known as a "banditry" and a "dissimulation" of chickadees.
In early summer, Mountain Chickadees are able to find and use seeds they hid during the previous autumn.
When temperatures fall below 10 degrees, research has shown that the survival rate of chickadees almost doubled when they had access to feeders which resulted in an overall higher winter survival rate of 69% versus a 37% survival rate for populations without access to feeders.
Chicakdees are tough little birds that do not migrate. During cold weather chickadees have been found to need twenty times more food than they do in summer.
Have you noticed how ravenously the birds eat at your bird feeders, especially first thing in the morning and just before dusk? Chickadees can gain as much as 10 percent of their body weight each day and lose it all again during a cold winter night.
The Seasons’ Not-so-Lone Rangers
Remember the Lone Ranger? Ever notice how he wasn’t really alone? He always had his trusty sidekick, Tonto at his side. Why? Because there is strength in numbers.
Well, there is strength in numbers in bird feeding, too.
During fall and winter, some nuthatches, titmice and chickadees search for food together in a “foraging guild.”
This results in many eyes looking for 1) the now dwindling supply of natural food and 2) potential predators. Birds in the guild recognize each other's alarm calls. This lets the guild keep a collective watch for predators and allows the individual birds to concentrate more on finding food.
Fortunately, chickadees, nuthatches and titmice are some of the hobby's most adored feeder visitors. They're small and cute, their movements are quick and erratic, and though they're gone from feeders just as fast as they arrived, it’s easy to be a big fan of these little birds.
Chickadees, nuthatches and titmice are also typically the first and easiest birds to attract to feeders in a wooded setting.
They have a mixed preference for sunflower (in and out of the shell), safflower and peanut pieces for caching (to retrieve and eat later), ingredients found in many of our exclusive seed blends, cylinders, Stackables®, Jim's Birdacious® BugBerry® Blend and more.
Visit us during our Bird Food Sale to save on all bird food. We’ll also make sure you have everything you need to see more of these not-so-Lone Rangers in your yard.