The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Chickadees Don’t Seem to Get Much Attention
by Ro Wauer

Almost every yard in Victoria and adjacent counties has a family of these little black-and-white birds. They are one of our most common songbirds, and yet they constantly get overlooked for the more colorful and larger cardinals and blue jays, along with the loudmouth mockingbirds. Although our Carolina chickadee is often one of our most common yard birds, it seldom gets much attention. That is even when it is one of our most easily identified species: a tiny, nervous bird with a black cap and bib and white cheeks.

The Carolina chickadee is a bird of the eastern forests, and our area of Texas lies along the southeastern edge of its range. Its range extends northward almost to the Great Lakes, eastward to the Atlantic shore, and through the northern half of Florida. Like many of the eastern forest birds – such as the pileolated woodpecker, American crow, tufted titmouse and blue jay – the southern edge of their range is roughly marked by the San Antonio River. These birds are seldom found south of the San Antonio River.

North America can claim a grand total of eight species of chickadees. Although the Carolina chickadee occurs throughout most of the Southeast, the range of the black-capped chickadee overlaps that of the Carolina chickadee along its northern edge, and extends northwest into Alaska. The boreal chickadee occurs even further north from Alaska to the extreme northeast and Newfoundland. And there are three western chickadees: (1) The range of the mountain chickadee extends from the Guadalupe Mountains in Texas northward through the Rocky Mountains to coastal Alaska. (2) The chestnut-backed chickadee is found only along the West Coast from central California to Alaska. (3) The Mexican chickadee barely reaches the United States in the mountains of extreme southern Arizona and New Mexico.

All the North American chickadees possess a similar pattern, although birders can readily separate them by habitat, general color, and song. The Carolina chickadee sings a fast “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” song. Others possess a slower or wheezier song or a husky whistle. And all the chickadees are cavity nesters, utilizing cracks and holes in trees, bushes, and various structures. Chickadee feed on seeds most of the year, but young are feed a diet of insects. Food is primarily found by gleaning, that is by searching the bark and cracks for whatever can be discovered. They also drink and bathe frequently.

The Carolina chickadees in my yard already have produced numerous youngsters that are now spending considerable time about my feeders and birdbaths. If the last few years are examples, I can expect a second brood in five or six weeks. Although majority of the 2008 youngsters will move elsewhere, perhaps to establish their own territories, by wintertime, the adults remain together year-round. They will, however, spend the wintertime in flocks of several chickadees, including some of their own young, as well as a few other songbirds. These individuals roam the neighborhoods in search of foods. Most years the adults will return to the same general area where they raised their own broods and where they, too, were fledged.


At 12:50 PM, Anonymous Dagny McKinley said...

I have always had a thing for chickadees. From the days I spent in Yosemite where they would fill the trees, to hiking in Colorado. Amazing bird.

Dagny McKinley
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