Cross-country skiing on the first day of February in a local forest preserve, I brightened at the call of a black-capped chickadee: chick-a-dee-dee-dee. It’s a call that delights both adults and children. The chickadee says its name!
The black-capped chickadee is a year-round resident of Barrington. Despite its diminutive size of about five inches in length and less than half an ounce in weight, it is a fierce winter survivor. On frigid winter nights such as the ones we have recently experienced, chickadees fluff up their feathers to maximize layers of warmth. They also can lower their body temperature by as much as 12º, achieving a sort of torpor uncommon in birds.
During daylight hours, when not flitting from tree to tree in search of live or hibernating insects, insect eggs, and cocoons, the chickadee can be enticed to bird feeders. It relishes sunflower, pumpkin, and squash seeds, nut meats, and suet. The chickadee delights feeder watchers with its darting ways and ability to hang upside down on a chunk of suet or cling to the tiny lip of a small globe feeder.
Chickadees favor company in winter – of others of their kind and of nuthatches, kinglets, and woodpeckers. Seldom will you find a solitary chickadee in winter months. Their cheery notes lift the gloom from the dreariest winter landscape.
As spring approaches, the chickadee bands disperse and the birds begin to pair off, whistling their high-pitched, two-note fee-bee song (which often is mistaken for that of an eastern phoebe). After a long winter, those cheerful notes are welcome music!
Once paired, the birds search for, or make, a tree cavity suitable for their nest. Sometimes they will use bird nest boxes, especially those designed for bluebirds and house wrens. Both male and female build the small, delicate mossy nest, lining it with bits of plant down and animal fur. Typically, the female lays five to eight tiny eggs and incubates them for about twelve days.
The black-capped chickadee is often described as a dynamo, an acrobat, a woodland sprite. It is all of those. It is a bird common to Barrington woodlands. But in its ability to gladden and delight with its perky notes and elfin antics, it’s quite an extraordinary species.
About the Author
Wendy Paulson has lived in Barrington Hills since 1975, and has led bird walks in the area for many years. She re-established the Nature Lady program in District 220 and St. Anne’s in the late 70s, under the auspices of The Garden Club and Little Garden Club of Barrington.
Wendy developed the education program for Citizens for Conservation, initiated and edited its newsletter, and has been an active volunteer with CFC for over 30 years.
During interludes in New York City and Washington, DC, she taught classes about birds in the public schools and is helping to develop a similar program in Chicago public schools with Openlands.
Wendy is chairman of The Bobolink Foundation, serves on the board or advisory committee of multiple conservation and bird-related organizations, both domestic and international, and is former chairman of IL and NY chapters of The Nature Conservancy.
She and her husband Hank have two grown children and are avid hikers, cyclists, and kayakers.
For more information about a cause close to Wendy’s heart here in Barrington, visit CitizensForConservation.org.
Wendy Paulson is a regular contributor at 365Barrington.com sharing profiles of birds found in the Barrington area. CLICK HERE to read all of Wendy’s posts published in our Birds of Barrington series and watch for her next contribution which will be published on the first of the month.
Do you have a question about birds you’ve seen in Barrington? Just enter you question in the comments box for this post and we’ll ask Wendy!