Empty Nester

When last we checked in with the Black-capped Chickadee family, there were 4 live chicks and an egg.

Black-capped Chickadees on May 11, 2019. Photo by Jamie Simo.

About a week after hatching, the chicks were beginning to look more like birds. Feathers were growing down their backs and starting on their wings. Although their eyes wouldn’t open for another 4 or 5 days, they were already starting to preen like adult birds. Clearly this is an innate behavior in chickadees as there’s no way they could mimic what they couldn’t see either parent do.

Black-capped Chickadee gathering suet for his/her brood. Photo by Jamie Simo.

While only the female Black-capped Chickadee incubates the chicks, both parents are active in feeding. As mentioned previously, sometimes the male will also do some mate-feeding, which the female then passes along to the chicks. The mystery of what the parents were feeding became clear as I saw the chickadee parents on my suet feeders often. Sometimes though I caught sight of them feeding a moth or a caterpillar. More and more, the female would tip herself beak down into the nest after feedings and poke around. I believe this was so she could expand the nest to accommodate her growing brood.

Black-capped Chickadee quartet on May 20, 2019. Photo by Jamie Simo.

By week 2, the chickadee chicks were starting to look more like chickadees and were getting more vocal, clambering to be the first to get the food offered by their parents. Due to the small confines of the nest, they would often lay on top of one another seemingly without much of an issue. I thought this made sense because I thought they also roost together to keep warm in winter, but apparently unlike other birds like bluebirds, chickadees roost singly.

Most of the literature I’ve read says that Black-capped Chickadees take 16 days from hatching to fledging, but on day 15, other than exercising their wings a bit, they showed no real hurry to fly. Granted, this may be due to a late snow that occurred right around the stated fledge date, although chickadees fledged on day 19 at this nest in New York, which the author notes is the average for their yard.

Extreme closeup as one chick explores what its wings can do. Photo by Jamie Simo.

May 25th, day 20, was the appointed day. The chicks were VERY busy hopping around the box and flapping their wings beforehand. Probably because they had some extra days to prepare, they fledged in quick succession. All but one chick had fledged by the time I got outside with my camera around 8am.

The last fledgling checks out the outside world prior to fledging. Photo by Jamie Simo

While the parents flitted around, calling encouragement, the chick would hop up to the hole, stretch out and look around for a few seconds, calling back, then disappear back inside. Finally, the chick decided to take the plunge and jumped out of the hole, fluttering the few feet into the nearby aspen saplings.

I haven’t seen the chicks since, but I’ve seen adult chickadees, presumably the parents, at my feeders. I can only hope the chicks are doing okay, though the fledgling period is the most dangerous for young birds. If they have survived, they’ll be just about ready to leave their parents and go off on their own; Black-capped Chickadee fledglings typically only stay with their parents for about 10 days.

The infertile Black-capped Chickadee egg that had been buried in the nest. Photo by Jamie Simo.

And now, the mystery of the egg. When I cleaned out the box, the nest was pretty dirty and unkempt, but I didn’t initially see the infertile egg. Feeling the nest though, I definitely felt something hard. Sure enough, mama chickadee had buried the egg deep inside the nest. With their small beaks, I suppose this was more efficient than trying to pick up the egg and remove it from the nest as the Northern Flickers did.

Good luck, little chickadees! I hope I see you again even if I don’t recognize you!





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