Nature Notes: The Superlative Chickadee

by Thomas Meier, Camp Director

Edwin Way Teale, famous naturalist of the last century, says that “winter is a time of superlative life.” On the

harshest of winter days in Central New York it can be difficult to agree. To find the truth in his statement, look no further than the bold black-capped chickadee in your backyard.

Chickadees and winter simply go together. Few other birds have the array of survival tactics at a chickadee’s disposal. A thick coat of feathers and sleeping in small tree cavities is just the beginning. Large brains help them find stashed food from warmer months. They conserve energy at night by lowering their body temperature an average of twelve degrees. During the day they stuff themselves with seeds, berries, and frozen insects, building fat reserves which burn off almost completely during the night.

As the days grow longer and our corner of the world warms to the sun, chickadees are the first to sing about it with their happy “cheese-burger!” song. As Teale says, “On the roughest day of winter, when life seems overwhelmed by storm and cloud, watch a chickadee, observe its good cheer and take heart.”