This is Sunday, New Year's Day, and for at least this day I will follow my intent to watch birds in our yard more closely this year, and post species and numbers to an eBird account. More about that another day.

This is about the Black-capped Chickadees coming to our feeders. There were five as nesting season ended, most likely from a clutch of six raised in one of the nest boxes in our yard. So six chicks and two parents make eight. We never saw more than five. Of course, they come and go, and they all look alike. Today, the most I've seen at one time is four.

Naturalist, teacher, and author Bernd Heinrich has written about observations of common birds seen near his woodland cabin in Maine. He mentions information he found in the book "Sand County Almanac" by Aldo Leopold. Leopold had feeders at his Wisconsin farm. He captured and marked 97 chickadees. By the fourth winter only three remained, determined by recapture. One bird survived to a fifth winter. Leopold tracked chickadee activities away from his farm. He determined that the birds had winter home ranges close to a kilometer across. This would be just over half a mile. The chickadees hatched in our yard, then, might he elsewhere in the neighborhood, or not, given Leopold's mortality numbers. He speculated that weather was the major killer of these tiny birds. He believed the birds had sufficient food because he saw them at his feeders. The individual that made it through five Wisconsin winters must have been very good at finding shelter from the wind on winter nights, tree cavities, for instance, or nest boxes.

Heinrich speculates that the chickadees in his neighborhood formed flocks among themselves and other small resident winter birds for two reasons. First, being in a flock reduces chances of being taken by a predator, a Cooper's Hawk, for instance, a winter resident here. Second, more eyes make it more likely that food will be spotted as the birds move through a woods or our neighborhoods. I put up a second suet feeder a couple of weeks ago. It went from no use to busy, the key being the first bird to see it. The other birds followed the first. 

Heinrich's book is"One Wild Bird at a Time," a perfect read for those of us who want to know more about the common visitors to our yards and feeders.

Below, a local Black-capped Chickadee.

Older Post

My apologies to elderly aunts everywhere

Newer Post

Good for a gray day -- watching birds via video cameras