Monday, May 3, 2010

Carolina Chickadee

Inquisitive Carolina Chickadee peers out of a nest box at an interloper (me). Chickadees are easily enticed to nest nearby if suitable boxes are provided.

Chickadee nests are plush beds of moss interwoven with plant fibers and perhaps the fur of your dog.

Recently fledged Carolina Chickadee. A worthy addition to any landscape.

The Columbus Dispatch
Friendly, frenetic chickadees put on a show
Sunday, May 2, 2010

"Come up and see me sometime."

"Mmm, I will, my little chickadee."

So went the exchange between W.C. Fields and Mae West at the end of the 1940 movie classic My Little Chickadee.

The latter line was delivered by Flower Belle Lee (West) to Cuthbert J. Twillie (Fields).

Real chickadees are a long jump cuter than Fields ever was, and they rival West in flashy good looks.

Not only are chickadees cute, they're bold, inquisitive and charismatic. I once was toting my scope and tripod through a wooded patch and looked back to find a chickadee hitchhiking along, perched on a tripod leg.

We have two species of chickadees in Ohio: the Carolina and the black-capped. Those in and around Columbus are Carolinas; the black-capped occupy the northern quarter of the state.

The two look almost identical and are best told apart by voice. Black-cappeds have a distinctly slower, huskier chick-a-dee-dee-dee call. Their clear, whistled song has two parts; that of the Carolina has four parts.

Occasionally during winter, black-capped chickadees wander as far south as Columbus.

These 10-gram, black-bibbed acrobats are a treat to watch.

Chickadees search tirelessly for insects among the branches of trees and shrubs, often dangling in impossible positions as they seek their quarry. They also accept our handouts and are frequent feeder visitors. If you're patient, chickadees can be trained to alight on your hand and take seed from your palm.

Fortunately for us, Carolina chickadees are among our most common birds. Adaptive and opportunistic, they fare well in the city and suburbia. Trees and shrubs help immensely: Chickadees prefer foraging in woody plants, and native plants support far more beneficial insects than non-native ones do. You can help chickadees and other birds by selecting native plants.

Chickadees nest in cavities, often making use of old woodpecker holes. They readily adopt suitable nest boxes and can be enticed to breed close to homes.

Their nests, hidden within the cavity's confines, are things of beauty. Most people don't loaf on a bed as luxuriant as a chickadee's nest. The cavity is stuffed with the softest moss available, and the eggs are nestled in a down-filled central cup. Animal hair is often intertwined, and pugnacious chickadees have been known to land on basking dogs and pluck tufts of fur.

Create a wildlife-friendly yard and slap up some nest boxes. Maybe you'll have a little chickadee come up and see you sometime.

Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch the first and third Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at


Jack and Brenda said...

I have seven young chickadees in our nesting box. A photo of them is at

Cape May Wren said...

Love those Carolina chickadees! I am, however, a bit miffed at them this year; a pair took over the box the female downy woodpecker spent the entire winter in. She got miffed when I let the supply of peanuts run out and I haven't seen her since... :o(

Jack and Brenda said...

My Chickadees are about 12 days old now. Here's a photo taken tonight.

Fort Loramie, Ohio