The Chestnut Backed Chickadee of the Pacific Northwest
The Chestnut Backed Chickadee is a frequent visitor to our feeders on Vancouver Island and are a joy to interact with. They sometimes look comical when they land on a branch close to you and turn their heads almost upside down all the while calling with the cheep cheep cheep call.
They are very friendly and quite beautiful when observed up close. I have had them land on my shoulders as l fill their feeders, chirping at me loudly, as if to tell me to hurry it up. They are a small energetic bird with a chestnut brown back, rump, and flanks. They have white cheeks, a black throat, and gray wings and tails. Their chest and bellies are all white. They have short bills and their average length is 10 cm. Male, female and juvenile chestnut backed chickadees all share the same plumage.
The Chestnut Backed Chickadee build their nests in woodpecker holes or excavate their own cavities in soft rotten wood. They are also known to nest in man made nest boxes. The nests are built using moss, lichen, fine grass, feathers, and plant fiber, and are lined using soft hair and fur. The nests are usually placed low and do not exceed 2.5 meters above ground.
The female chickadee lays 5 to 7 eggs usually white eggs. Some eggs although white, are speckled. Both male and female chickadees tend to their young while nesting.
Little is known about the mating habits of these chickadees. So far there is no information available regarding their mating behavior or pattern for pair formation. What is known is that chestnut backed chickadees become territorial during breeding season but otherwise freely join mixed species flocks, especially in winter. Breeding season starts around mid March to early April.
The Chestnut Backed Chickadee get their food by foraging. They hop along tree branches and pick the surfaces and probe crevices in order to find food. They are often seen hanging upside down from tree branches in order to get to the food found on the branches’ underside. They like to forage in conifers and even eat conifer seeds. The main diet of chestnut backed chickadees is composed mainly of insects and spiders. They also seem to like the suet and birdseed found in bird feeders. They store food in the fall, which they retrieve and use during winter. This spring, l observed them hanging upside down on salmon berry flowers, licking up the nectar.
Although they are non migratory they sometimes fly short distances in winter when their food supply gets low. They usually move to lower elevations in the same area when winter starts and move back up to higher elevations in late summer.
Chestnut Backed Chickadees use lots of fur and hair to make their nests. Their nests are actually 50% fur and hair. The most common hair they use comes from deer, rabbits, and coyotes. The adult chickadees also make a layer of fur about a centimeter thick which is used to cover the eggs on the nest whenever they leave the nest. When we brush our dogs in the spring, we place the hair in areas where chickadees and other birds can gather it to use for nesting material.