It’s that time of year: there are babes in the woods. A note from your LaGrange County Naturalist, Scott Beam: “Leave the babies alone! Mom is nearby and will take care of them.” Scott says he gets lots of calls this time of year about “abandoned” baby birds, fawns, etc., and rarely are they truly abandoned. A nestling that has fallen from its nest can be safely returned to its nest and mom will accept it.
We’ve been watching our own little family of Chickadees. At a recent meeting of the Howe Lions Club, wren houses were constructed by each member and guest to be taken home and hung outside. We put ours up on the edge of the Riverbend Park forest where we could see it from our living room window. We chose a branch that could support the weight of the bird house, but probably not the weight of a raccoon. It was also in the hawthorn tree, and I was hoping the thorns would discourage predators. No wrens, but it wasn’t long before we saw chickadees checking it out. In and out, in and out! Busy little guys! Then no activity. But I read up on nesting habits and it said that chickadees will sometimes build several nests and then choose the best location. After a few days, they were back, and the in and out activity continued. I was hoping to hear some begging chirps, but I guess mom had them hush whenever I walked close by, because I never heard a sound. However, two days ago when I went out to put seed in the feeders, it sounded like a chickadee convention and as I got closer several little chickadees flushed from the low shrubs to higher branches. It’s been quiet ever since, so I guess our babies fledged successfully and are now out exploring the rest of the woods.
To encourage repeat customers we took the house down today and cleaned it out and then rehung it. What a cute little nest—very tiny, as are the birds who built it. It had mostly fur and a little moss in its construction. I don’t know where those little guys found all that fur! I do have a neighbor with cats and she feeds the neighborhood raccoons as well, so maybe some of them unknowingly donated to the nest. According to the Cornell Lab it’s more likely to be rabbit fur, and I have seen quite a few rabbits hanging around. They clean up any grain that the grackles, doves or mallards missed—which isn’t much!
Two Black-capped Chickadees together weigh less than an ounce. They have a black cap and bib, white cheeks, a whitish underside with buffy sides, and a gray back, wings, and tail. In our area we are most likely to see Black-Capped Chickadees, although Carolina Chickadees are very similar and their range is moving northward. And where the ranges overlap, they do interbreed, so it’s very difficult to tell the two apart. The oldest known wild chickadee lived to the ripe old age of 12 years.
Chickadees lay from one to 13 eggs. They are white and finely marked with reddish-brown dots, often concentrated on the wider end of the egg, which has little or no gloss. I don’t know how many our birdhouse held because I didn’t want to disturb them. They are incubated for a period of 12 - 13 days and then remain in the nest for another 12 – 16 days. My source says only one brood per season, though, so I’m not sure rehanging the box was necessary. We’ll see what happens next.
Chickadees are big fans of sunflower seeds and they are known to hide them, each seed in a different place, to eat later. You will rarely see a chickadee sit at a feeder. Instead it grabs a seed and flies away to eat or hide it, soon returning for another seed. They don’t migrate, so they can entertain us all winter long. And in winter they travel in mixed flocks with nuthatches, kinglets, and woodpeckers, so if you attract chickadees, you’ll probably have other visitors, too. A small investment in seed can keep you entertained for a long time!