The Black-capped chickadee is a very common, but nonetheless very handsome bird of the Northern woods. John Weier in his book Marshwalker: Naturalist Memoirs says “Apparently, chickadees that live in cold climates replace and enlarge their brains every fall, they need to remember all the places they stash food. When spring and warm weather come, their brain cells begin to die again.” I love these birds because they stick around with us during the long cold winter months. They might not be smart, but they sure are relentless.
I read the excellent book, For the Birds: An Uncommon Guide, written by Laura Erickson . She was the guest speaker and birding guide at the Baudette Wildlife festival that Eugene Reimer and I attended a number of years ago. She is a very interesting speaker and birding guide, and says,
“About chickadees she points out that “chickadees wear even less clothing than a New Year’s baby, but scales and special circulatory adaptations protect their feet from frostbite, and their birthday suit of thick down insulates them against bitterest cold. They eat frozen dinners of seeds, suet, and insect pupae and larvae and sip from dipping icicles, yet maintain their body temperatures at 104 degrees, with heat enough to spare to warm our hearts.”
Laura Erickson recommended that the state of Minnesota designate an emergency back up state bird, and she intends to petition the Black capped chickadee for that role. Unlike the loon, it never leaves the state of Minnesota, or the province of Manitoba for that matter. Do we need an emergency back-up bird? Sounds like a good idea.
Erickson also talks about birds in flocks, as follows:
“In Fall, Black-capped chickadees form flocks. The year’s young separate from their siblings and join different groups: this prevents them from choosing a closely related mate when the time comes. Flocks are more efficient at finding food and spotting predators than individual birds would be. Nuthatches and Downy woodpeckers associate with these flocks in winter.”
She also mentioned how the chickadees maintain their body temperature in part by turning down their thermostats to conserve fuel during long cold, hungry nights. She says the chickadee can drop its temperature over 12 degree at nighttime.
Henry David Thoreau, one of North America’s finest naturalists, described the sound of chickadees as “the lisping tinkle of the chickadees.” That is a pretty good description.