Chickadees: Lessons from a polite bruiser


Black-capped Chickadee

It can easily be said that Black-capped Chickadees are among the most well-loved birds anywhere. Cute, round and puffy, they just melt the hearts of many. Add to that their sociability (wild Chickadees can be tamed just enough to be hand-fed) and you’ve got a songbird with an enormous fan base.

But like just about anything else in Nature, Chickadees can teach us so much more about living, if only we’d appreciate the characteristics they possess. The BCCH has managed to survive and prosper in an age where most wild animals are deeply pressured by the over-population and over-consumption of Homo sapiens.


Black-capped Chickadee nestlings 2012

The “adorability” factor in the BCCH does not necessarily extend to its fellow species members nor other songbirds. When mating season dawns, no bird fights for and protects its territory more fiercely than the Black-capped Chickadee. They usually raise only one brood per year (unless tragedy strikes the nest wherein they may try for a 2nd) so it’s all or nothing each year when it comes to progeny. Additionally, they are cavity-nesters so must compete not only with their own kind but also with Eastern Bluebirds, House Wrens, Tree Swallows, House Sparrows and others for nesting sites. Being smaller than most of these species, it takes an enormous amount of feistiness to fight for the right to a nest location. But these “battles for position” never end in hurt or death – the Chickadee knows when to draw the line (and because of its resiliency, the BCCH often wins out anyway).

Winter brings with it a number of other traits that offer us valuable wisdom on life. Most profound is the BCCH’s incredible ability to survive the most severe conditions that the cold season can dish out. Being highly energetic, Chickadees need to feed throughout the day and will do so in pretty much all but blizzard situations. This demonstrates amazing strength and endurance under the most stressful of situations, qualities we humans should model. At night, the BCCH survives without food by achieving a Hummingbird-like state of torpor where its metabolic systems slow considerably allowing it to conserve enough energy to make it through a cold, food-deprived sleep. Here the Chickadee teaches us that regardless of need, we all must stop, unwind and rest in order to live a healthy, productive life.

Black-capped Chickadee opening a seed

Black-capped Chickadee opening a seed

One of the most exemplary behaviors of the BCCH is among the most unexpected when you consider that this tough little bruiser knows how to fight and compete. This more charming characteristic can easily be witnessed at a backyard feeder in Winter when BCCHs flock with their own and other species, such as Nuthatches, small Woodpeckers and the Tufted Titmouse. (It is thought that flocking in Winter may help birds to survive tough conditions by sharing body heat during night-time roosting and helping to protect them from predation – i.e. strength in numbers.) During Winter feeding when resources are more scarce, one would think the BCCH would be all about fending off competitors for a food source. But we should not be so quick to judge. When Chickadees feed, they grab a seed and fly off to a suitable perch to open the shell and eat the prize inside. But instead of just heading back to the feeder for another seed, Chickadees wait their turn, allowing other flock members to have their chance at retrieving vital nutrition. Keep your eye on a couple of individuals when a Chickadee flock is feasting at a Winter sunflower feeder and watch for this altruistic behavior.

Yes, we can learn a lot about living a full and complete life from Nature and the Black-capped Chickadee is a wonderful role model for us all.

4 thoughts on “Chickadees: Lessons from a polite bruiser

    • How fun! Perhaps you’ve a flock of “socialized” BCCH who have been hand fed by someone? The crowd here will wait nearby and chatter away while the feeders are being filled but I have seen some bolder individuals on trails where they are used to being hand fed by hikers. Gray Jays have been particularly aggressive in this manner. Enjoy your little dive-bombers!

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