Several observers told me that many broods of black-capped chickadees hatched out the Memorial Day weekend, and sets of parents were busy bringing insect food to their young.

Females alone incubate the eggs. The period lasts 12 to 13 days. Now, as the second week of June approaches, most broods of chickadees are out of their nests and flying around with their parents. Their parents look alike, and the young resemble their parents.

A common year-round resident throughout Minnesota, the 5-inch-tall black-capped chickadee is the familiar gray bird with a black cap and throat patch and a white chest. They can be easily attracted to backyard seed feeders and, in fact, are usually the first bird to find a new feeder. This bird calls its own name: chick-a-dee-dee-dee. The clear, whistled fee-bee, the second note lower, is considered the chickadee’s true song. I have heard it in every month of the year, but most frequently in the spring when the nesting season approaches.

About three-tenths of the chickadee’s food is plant matter such as wild fruits and seeds. The balance is animal matter, including caterpillars that defoliate trees, bark beetles and other insects and their eggs. The black-capped chickadee works throughout the year to subdue insect enemies of the farm and garden and to help keep the balance of nature in woodland areas.

If you carefully observe this fascinating little ball of feathers, constantly overflowing with cheerful song, you will find that it likes the food at feeders but spends most of its day prospecting for animal matter in the twigs, branches and bark of trees.

Chickadees retire about sunset.


Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.