The black-capped chickadee is a common year-round resident throughout Minnesota. The birds appear in small flocks in winter and often in the company of nuthatches. The chickadee works through the year to subdue the insects of farm and garden and to help keep the balance of nature in woodland areas. About three-tenths of their food is wild fruit and seeds; the balance is animal matter, including insects and spiders and their eggs.

This fascinating, 5-inch ball of feathers weighing about one-fortieth of a pound, constantly overflowing with cheerful song, can be easily attracted to most feeding stations offering sunflower and other seed. You will find with careful observation that chickadees like the food at feeders, but they spend most of their day prospecting for animal matter in the twigs of trees. A chickadee first looks a twig over from above and then hangs, head down, and inspects it from below. It is a thorough worker and doesn't intend to overlook anything.

I helped trap and band black-capped chickadees for years at Lowry Nature Center in Carver Park Reserve near Victoria. We recaptured many of these small birds over and over during any one year, and were amazed to catch one individual off and on for 10 years.

Already now in January, black-capped chickadees have begun whistling "fee-bee" over and over, a spring song that tells us one season slides slowly into another. Chickadees retire about sunset. They sleep in old woodpecker holes, in old nesting cavities that they've constructed in a rotten stump, or in dense conifer branches and dense thickets. Groups of the birds tend to roost in the same area each night. Station yourself at a known roosting place and you might observe them returning to it. As the flocks break up and pairs form in the spring, the winter roosts are abandoned.

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.