Every spring I look forward to the chickadees that flock to our woodland garden. Often they will splash about in the birdbath, scratch gently in the soil, perch or hang upside down on bare branches, and generally do what they do well – look extremely cute. Because their bodies are so round, small, and chubby and they possess a beautiful song, they tend to be universally liked. They do not leave large droppings, they do not damage your siding, they do not hurt other birds, and they actually eat offending pests such as aphids, caterpillars, and beetles.
You can easily identify the Black-Capped Chickadee by its distinctive markings. The cheeks are white, the cap of the head and the chest bib are black, the back is grey, the wings a mixture of grey and white, and the body under the wings is a light tan. They tend to travel in groups as they are very sociable. They choose a mate early in the season and are very quick to use a nesting box if it is provided. They will also build a nest in rotted wood cavities. They are very curious and are not afraid of humans.
Chickadees are one of the easiest birds to attract to your backyard. You will be visited by these birds if you provide nesting boxes, feeders, birdbaths (or other water source), and a good mix of evergreen trees, deciduous trees, and shrubs for food and shelter. They love to eat seed heads, suet, sunflower seeds, and peanuts. They will also eat many types of flying insects, ants, larva, and bugs.
Instead of providing birdfeeders, it is preferable to make available plants that offer attractive seeds and berries or harbor bugs that fulfill the dietary requirements of Chickadees. Favorite perennials are seed bearing plants such as Black-Eyed Susans. Leave the seed heads on the plant over the winter and you will find flocks of Chickadees feeding on the seeds in early spring when they need the fat and nutrients these provide. Maples, Western Red Cedars, Crab Apples, Lilacs, Dogwood, Rowan, and other trees and shrubs that attract small insects will be visited frequently by Chickadees. Below is one of my resident chickadees in my Western Red Cedar with a bug for his/her babies.
Another important attraction for chickadees is a source of clean water for drinking and bathing. I have two bird baths that I clean every day. They frequently see up to ten Chickadees in the bath at the same time! If you do not have a bird bath, a shallow dish on the ground that is regularly filled and cleaned will be welcomed by them.
I bought two cedar bird houses from the Wild Birds Unlimited shop in North Vancouver that were built specifically for Chickadees. They have a door that can be opened for easy cleaning. I have had the houses for three years and every year they provide a home for 2 mating pairs and their offspring. It is such a joy to hear all the chirping and see the parents busily rushing back and forth searching for food for the little ones. Over the winter I clean and store the houses in the shed. I also hang wool from trees for building the nests. I put this out in March. I also notice Chickadees really love the lint that comes from my dryer vent. They spend ages scraping it from the concrete patio as if it were a treasure. It must make a nice soft bed for the babies.
Here is a photo of one of my birdhouses with its occupant poking his/her head out. I can view the comings and goings from my chair in the family room…
If you prefer to build your own birdhouse, ensure the entry hole is just over 2.5 cm (1″) in diameter and do not attach a perch. Have a way to open the box for cleaning. Also ensure you provide some ventilation and hang the box in the shade, not direct sun. I hang my birdhouses at a height of approximately 3 meters and far enough out on a limb that racoons and cats cannot bother the nest.
I hope these tips will help you to experience the joy of sharing your garden with these marvelous little birds.