Chickadees are the official bird of the state of Massachusetts in America and are part of the tit family. Their pretty name is localised to North America and reputedly comes from the fact that they make a distinctive ‘chick-a-dee-dee’ call. In fact, this sound is their alarm call and their usual call is different – a softer ‘fee bee’ tone. The number of ‘dees’ on the end of the alarm call will depend on the predator.
There are different types of chickadee based on where they live - Mountain Chickadee, Carolina Chickadee – and their appearance, for instance, Black-Capped Chickadee and Grey-Headed Chickadee. The chickadee is a universally beloved bird with an engaging appearance – an oversized head and rotund body – and a quickness and curiosity which makes it a favourite in many gardens. So what do Chickadees eat?
Chickadees are omnivores so will eat both plant and animal matter. In the wild chickadees eat a wide range of food types including seeds, fruit berries, insects and carrion. Seeds and fruit form the major part of their diet but chickadees will feed off small amounts of animal flesh. They are varied eaters and their diet is largely dictated by what they can find in their natural environment.
Chickadees are easy to lure to the garden as they are attracted by fruit bushes and will happily eat from a bird feeder. Chickadees are not scavengers but may eat all sorts of food including human foods if offered such as bread and biscuits although these may not be healthy for them.
Chickadee feeding on red berries during the winter
Chickadees will feed on whatever is available in the winter months, this may include carrion if conditions are harsh and their usual preferred foods of seeds and berries are not available.
Seeds are a staple favourite of the chickadee’s diet. They are especially fond of black oil sunflower seeds, hulled sunflower seeds and striped sunflower seeds. They will also eat chopped or shelled peanuts and even peanut butter! The fats and oils in peanuts are a good source of energy. Peanuts are best fed shelled, and chopped up into small pieces.
For those keen birdwatchers who want to encourage chickadees to the garden, chickadees also like safflower seeds, nyjer seeds – nyjer seeds have a hard shell and are often called ‘black gold’ because they are expensive – millet and cracked corn.
Chickadee feeding young chick
Chickadee chicks will be fed by both parents and eat a diet of digested and regurgitated food whilst they are in the nest. When they are ready to fledge, they will start food collecting for themselves.
Chickadees will feed on the ground, consuming carrion if other food sources are scarce. Where they eat usually depends upon what they are feeding on. Chickadees are quick birds and don’t remain on the ground for long periods.
Mountain Chickadee with caterpillars in its beak
Chickadees feed on a huge variety of insects; because they are swift in flight and agile, they are opportunistic hunters and can easily catch flies, moths, caterpillars and spiders.
Sunflower seeds are a particular favourite of chickadees; they are nutritious and will attract plenty of other species to the garden as well as chickadees. Sunflower seeds are a good option for the bird feeder to attract plenty of chickadees, especially when other food sources are scarce. Black sunflower seeds are the chickadee’s favourite.
Chickadee eating worms from a garden feeder
Worms form part of the chickadee’s diet so store-bought insects including mealworms will ensure they are frequent visitors to your yard or garden.
Chickadees like thistle but don’t eat the whole thistle seed but only the contents within the hardened shell. Chickadees will often hold the thistle seed by their feet and use their beak to shell the seed and expose the fruit.
Chickadee feeding from suet feeder in back yard
Suet is a popular part of the chickadee’s diet particularly during the winter as it is energy dense during colder weather and when other food sources may be scarce.
Chickadees require a plentiful water source to stay hydrated and healthy. This species will take advantage of a shallow bird bath to clean their feathers if one is available. The best type of bird bath is a shallow receptable with scattered river rocks to make entry and departure from the water easy and reducing the risk of drowning. Avoid deep containers or baths.
Chickadee feeding on sunflower seeds
Chickadees require about one-third of their body weight in food every day to stay healthy. Their digestive system is rapid, so they always appear to have a healthy appetite. They are active birds, so they burn a lot of energy which drives their feeding requirements.
Chickadees need to feed around every 30 minutes, so they are constantly hunting for nutritious food.
Use a bird feeder with a variety of seeds, fruit and insects. Chickadees have an in-built clock, so they will follow a regular schedule if they know food will be available. A bird bath is an added attraction that can be placed near the feeder.
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