In “Birds of America,” the black-capped chickadee is described as “frolicking and frisking from tree to tree, happy and carefree.” I’ve seen all four species of chickadee, and they all act that way throughout the day.
Only in heavy rain or snow, or in strong wind at night are chickadees still. And when one is incubating a clutch of eggs.
Chickadees have to be active when they’re awake. Their metabolism is high, and they’re so little they have little fat reserve. They eat incessantly when awake, acquiring energy at about the same rate they’re using it. At night, and during severe weather when they are forced to be inactive, their metabolism slows and they become sluggish and torpid.
Black-capped and Carolina chickadees are common feeder birds. They don’t crowd a feeder like house sparrows and house finches, mourning doves, grackles and starlings. They fly back and forth between a feeder and the branches of nearby trees and bushes.
Food habit studies, however, have shown that their primary food is insects and small spiders. When flitting about among the leaves or the bare branches in winter, they’re feeding like warblers, gleaning insects, insect larvae or eggs.
Seeds are supplemental food. The percentage of seeds eaten increases in winter, as would be expected and as any bird feeder observer can tell if he or she counts chickadees coming to a feeder.
Count chickadees! Sure, and when you’ve managed to do that, count snowflakes the next time it snows. Counting snowflakes might even be easier if it isn’t snowing heavily, because the snowflakes will all be falling, not whisking up and down or back and forth.
Chickadees nest in cavities, in deserted downy woodpecker holes, natural cracks and crevices in trees, in bird houses that aren’t occupied by house wrens, house sparrows or other birds. Being last in line for cavity nest sites, it hardly seems possible that chickadees can be among our most common woodland and feeder birds. I’d prove they are, if only they’d sit still and let me count them.