On a cold winter day, if you listen closely while walking Ryerson Woods, you can hear the unmistakable call of the black-capped chickadee. “Chick-a-dee-dee-dee,” it calls, perhaps to connect with its brethren at a good feeding spot or alarm them of an intruder, possibly a predator. Both male and female chickadees give this call throughout the year.
Chickadees live at Ryerson year-round – they can survive the winter because of special adaptations that other birds living in cold climates possess: by fluffing their feathers to trap warmth, by growing more feathers, and by shivering as a way to regulate their body temperature. They also seek tree holes and other crevices on the coldest days to protect themselves from the chilling wind.
Chickadees have other special techniques that help them during the coldest time here in northern Illinois. First, they can hang on the undersides of branches to retrieve hidden larvae and eggs. Yes, the insects that will come this spring are waiting there for just the right moment to emerge. Chickadees help keep the population in check.
Chickadees also feed on seeds – as you know if you feed the birds in your backyard. Have you ever watched them at your feeder? They sometimes take the seed and fly off with it in their bill – they’re hiding it for future retrieval. They actually remember where they hide the seeds – usually underneath tree bark.
In January, the cheerful sound of the black-capped chickadee’s call brightens anyone’s spirit. And when February comes, you can hear a new sound from these hardy birds – their spring song. They start early. Listen for “fee-bee” or “fee-bee-bee” or “hey, sweetie” with the first syllable higher in pitch. Click here to listen to the song: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black-capped_Chickadee/sounds
That means they are starting to think about raising young, establishing territories and finding a cavity in which to nest. Sometimes one will even sing in January.
While out at Ryerson Woods, take a walk and listen for the chickadee’s calls and songs – then step inside to warm up and view the art exhibition featuring sculptures and drawings of the birds you love. You also might hear chickadees when you're on the free Soundwalk scheduled for Jan. 25 at Brushwood Center.
Have any questions about chickadees? Let us know.
- Sheryl DeVore
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This blog is written by the staff and partners of Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods