The Cutest Bird at the Feeder

All photos courtesy of Tom Grey

For sheer cuteness, it’s hard to beat the Chestnut-Backed Chickadee. This species of Chickadee, which is unique to the West Coast, is the most charming member of an adorable family and a common visitor at Oakmont feeders. You probably know them already – their distinctive black and white heads and warm, chestnut-brown backs and sides make them easy to recognize. It also helps that they announce their name when they call – “chick-a-dee-dee” – though they don’t always enunciate clearly.

Our Chickadees’ natural habitat is the foggy pine and redwood forests along the Pacific Coast, but they also come inland to oak woodlands and frequent suburban and even urban landscapes where trees and shrubs – and bird feeders – are plentiful. They often join up with other little birds like nuthatches and titmice to travel in what’s called a mixed flock, making the circuit around a neighborhood to see who’s offering what, and who remembered to fill the birdbath.

Very small birds, Chickadees make up in personality what they lack in size. They quickly acclimate to people and they don’t mind interaction. They will fuss and scold at anyone or anything for any reason. They are much more likely to land on your head than most wild birds, and quickly learn to eat out of your hand with a little encouragement.

While primarily insectivores, Chestnut-Backed Chickadees also enjoy seeds and suet, and will even try to get at the nectar in hummingbird feeders. They’re acrobatic foragers, happily hanging upside down to pick bugs off leaves or attack a cake of suet.

These Chickadees build nests in cavities in trees and posts, including discarded woodpecker holes, but will take advantage of small nest boxes when supplied. An unusual aspect of their nesting is the use of fur – from deer, rabbit, dog, mouse, whatever donors they can find, alive or dead. They line their nests with it and even create a thin fur flap to fold over the eggs when both parents leave the nest.

Like birds and bird watching? Join the Oakmont Birders mailing list by contacting bkendrick@jps.net. Share what you’re seeing. Questions about birds? Want a “Birds Seen in Oakmont” checklist? Send an e-mail. This column is taking a rest for the summer but will pop back up in the October, in time for the fall migrants.

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