A large flock of Black-Capped Chickadees were in thick in the lower branches of the tall, old evergreen in our backyard. It was during one of those 90º days which were so numerous this summer. The lawn sprinkler lazily bent backward and forward covering the birds with crystal droplets so like gems sparkling in the sunlight. Each needle of the branch showered the little birds who quivered their feathers for an additional cooling.
And although they have seasonal songs, their chorus then was varied and merry in appreciation for the respite from the heat. They love the tip-tops of evergreens especially because the cones are numerous there and perhaps, fresher!
There among the bejeweled branches the Black Caps and, perhaps, their relatives some Tufted Titmouse, a Nuthatch or two, might have been present. They made a pleasant sight. Reference states that Chickadees’ name is onomatopoeic from the sound of its call. (Remember how smart you felt in grade school when you learned that word!?) The Cherokee Indians called them tsikilili.
The Titmouse, the one with the tuft on the top of its head, not a black cap, derives its name from an unusual source—Old Icelandic, titr, meaning small. And from the Anglo-Saxon mase also small. It is not from the root mus, Latin for mouse. So it is redundant ... small-small.
Both are Parididae and will perch and walk upside down on tree trunks as do the Brown Creeper, small, too, but mottled brown, stripey. The Parididae are well-defined in blacks, grays, buff and white.
Mother Nature designed the tits and chickadees for a specific job so that’s why they go upside down and backwards, round and round, as they pick out insect eggs, larvae, worms and lots of creepy crawlies which can destroy trees and plants.
And weed seeds that take over crops if not kept in control by these tiny birds. That’s why they stay all winter long, they do not migrate, except for a few roamers.
They don’t mind the freezing chill of Northwest Illinois winters and scour tree bark for their menu to assist us in insect control. But, of course, they love to visit the bird feeder at your window. They can become quite tame and may eat out of the hand that feeds them!
Parididae, coming from the Roman for tit, Parius, include Black Capped, Brown Capped and Carolina Chickadee. All three have a cap, bib and white cheeks. They are smaller than a sparrow, more like a wren but sturdier appearing.
When you become acquainted with the Chickadee, it may answer to your whistle fee-bee-bee, fee-bee, repeatedly. It is not to be confused with the song of the Phoebe, another bird whose name sounds like its call, call not whistle.
Other birds that may be seen with a flock of Black Caps are the Tufted Titmouse, little beauties like the Golden and Ruby Crowned Kinglets, Blue-gray Gnat catcher, Mr. Brown Creeper, a trio of Nuthatches, the Red Breast, White Breasted and Brown Headed. All of those are listed in the excellent Roger Tory Peterson “Field Guide to the Birds.”
Close study has found that Chickadees use different calls according to the season . . . Spring, summer, winter and can be identified by them, everything from the tseet to the chickadee to the whistle, fee-bee.
A dee-dee repeated tells that there is an aggressive situation in progress. A Tweedledeedee is often indication of a skirmish or chase. The Parididae, naturally, have their own territories in breeding and non-breeding times. They will agitate to procure their own nesting grounds. Chickadees especially like a birch tree, a hole in one or stump of one. The bark is firm and the underwood is soft in which to burrow, dropping wood chips from the perch. In that way you might be able to detect a nest although they will fly off to a nearby perch from which they will drop the chips, a diversion tactic to lure you (or a predator) away from the nest. The nest will be 4 ft. to 15 ft. high.
During the egg laying and nest building phase, the male bird feeds the female about every half hour. If he doesn’t keep to schedule, the female will leave the nest for a short time to search for food on her own. Communication at that time is a very soft fee-bee, fee-bee, both whistling it. A clutch of six eggs can be laid, one each day until done.
The female alone incubates them, the male feeding her as the eggs hatch. The nestling phase lasts about sixteen days until the tiny birdies leave the nest, the parents having fed them for ten days when the “children” go off on their own. At that time they are in their “prep school” phase, learning to find food, perch, then attempt to fly, an awkward, difficult time and they are prone to accidents and predators.
Although it may seem there are a lot more Parididae in the winter time than in summer its just that they gather together more often and because there are fewer branches of leaves on the trees. They take to the woods in summer where eggs, insects, worms are lushly numerous. In winter they come to town to haunt the bird feeders and urban trees and plants for their seeds. The population remains about the same as few of them migrate.
A “flocking season” occurs from August through February when they meet and greet birds of other species like the Titmouse, Creeper, Kinglets, even the Downy Woodpecker and the White Breasted Nuthatch, two of them shown here. This mixed group roam here and there to surprise the most dedicated bird watcher.
Although the Chickadee is a merry little feathered friend there are aggressive ones among them which will dominate a feeder, pushing others aside or finding prominence in the best places. Sometimes even the subordinate birds will wait until the groups’ CEO Chickadee is done eating to go to the feeders themselves. Yes, even in Birdville!
In Thornton Burgesses, “Bird Book for Children,” from which the picture here was taken Black Cap at top, Peter Rabbit is shocked to learn from Mr. Black Cap that he feeds directly from the hand of Farmer Brown’s Boy down in the Old Orchard. How could Chickadee trust Boy not to hurt him or capture him?
Chickadee replies that his favorite foods are given him by the Boy, suet and sunflower seeds. He pays back the favor by sitting in the boy’s hand which gives Boy happiness. The perky little bird reminds Peter Rabbit that when you trust your friends, the better friends they will be.