Chick-a-dee-dee, chick-a-dee-dee-dee. Have you ever heard this sound while walking in the woods or playing in your yard? Were you able to spot the source of this sound? If you did, you spotted a black-capped chickadee. This small bird, easily recognized by its black cap, black bib and white cheek, is a year-round resident of Wisconsin and a favorite visitor to backyard feeders.
Maybe one of the reasons people like this bird so much is that it, like most of us, hangs around through the winter. Unlike its fickle, feathered cousins that head south to bask in the winter sun, this bird toughs it out in the frozen north.
Five inches long and weighing about one-third of an ounce, this small bird has adapted to surviving the cold and snow. At night, the chickadee's body temperature drops about 20 degrees. It's kind of like turning down a thermostat; you use less energy. The chickadee also shivers to stay warm. Its small heart beats 650 times/minute. When it is bitter cold you might notice chickadees looking kind of puffed out. Chickadees fluff out their feathers to trap air to keep warm. You might also notice them huddling together out of the wind in protected areas like in conifer trees.
During the day the chickadee eats a lot—20 times more than in the summer. It must eat 150 sunflower seeds a day to survive in mild winter weather, 250 seeds a day when the temperature drops below zero. If you ever wonder where all of the sunflower seeds at your bird feeder are going, now you know! It's also important to remember if you're feeding the birds, that when the weather turns bitter cold, they need you to keep your feeders full. Chickadees also eat insects and spider eggs that they find under bark and in dead wood. Watch them use their tiny, pointed beaks to root out an insect treat.
If you've never seen one of these birds, take a moment this winter to see if you can spot one. You may be able to find them in your own backyard or in a local park. Study them for awhile and then see if you can figure out why Aldo Leopold called this bird a "bundle of large enthusiasms."