BLANE KLEMEK OUTDOORS: Black-capped Chickadees are hardy, resourceful birds – Bemidji pioneers

In about two months it will be spring again in Nordland. Looking outside now, however, it’s hard to imagine. The ice on the lakes is getting thicker, the snow keeps building, and as surely as you read these words, the bitter cold will come again before it’s all over.

Despite this, we are already seeing subtle signs of a slowly fading winter. The days are getting noticeably longer and the male black-capped tit are singing their bee songs.

Few wild birds please me more than the happy tit. A bird that seems carefree about its daily business, Chickadee always seems to be having fun.

Even their names, Chickadee, convey hilarity. It’s fun to say! “Chickadee-dee-dee-dee,” they say.

Black-capped Chickadee is one of the most common birds at our backyard bird feeders and one of the most widespread birds in North America. Also, in all of the northern states, Canada, and parts of Alaska, there aren’t many places where a titmouse can’t be found.

One of seven tit species on the continent, only the black-capped tit and boreal tit call Minnesota home. Known for their sociable, docile, and inquisitive nature, it’s no wonder that tits are loved by everyone. And what’s not to like and appreciate about the tit?

Just a few days ago, when I poured black oil sunflower seeds into the feeder, I held out an open palm full of seeds to all comers. And it wasn’t long before a titmouse landed on my hand, quickly grabbed a seed and flew away with its prey. What a treat!

One might wonder how these tiny birds survive the long and brutal Minnesota winters, let alone why they don’t just migrate to warmer climates like so many other birds do. Having these mighty mites live year-round here in Minnesota is one of the many reasons we enjoy this little bird so much.

Although tits can and do readily embrace our bounty of seeds and tallow, they are well equipped to take advantage of anything Mother Nature has to offer. In winter, chickadees will feed on whatever natural foods are available, including seeds, fruits, insects, and fat/meat. If you spend enough time in the great outdoors beyond the backyard bird feeders, you can watch tits foraging for all kinds of natural food in a variety of interesting and fun ways.

These gregarious birds move in small flocks of about a dozen through forests, woodlands, and field edges while softly calling to each other while foraging and securing a variety of food. Once last fall, while sitting quietly in a deer park, I watched about half a dozen titmice leap over each other as they made their way through the area. Any bird intent on finding food seemed to find something to eat with little effort or difficulty.

I watched a tit perch on the stalk of a goldenrod, just below the plant’s bulbous gall. For a short time the bird pecked at the bile until it reached the morsel it was chasing after the larva of a goldenrod gall fly.

How on earth do titmice know there is something good and nutritious to eat inside a goldenrod gall? It’s a mystery, to be sure. They can’t smell it, see it, or hear it, but somehow they know it. Great.

Well-adapted to anything Minnesota can dish out inclement weather, tits actively seek out natural cavities, aviary, and other structures—natural or man-made—to spend the day or night indoors during inclement weather.

Sometimes alone, but often with others, chickadees snuggle together to use each other’s body heat to stay warm and comfortable. Clever and resourceful, rest assured that the titmouse is a hardy bird despite its small size.

Black-capped Chickadees, common as they are, are warm and welcoming wild birds. We’re lucky to have them all around us as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.

Blane Klemek is a DNR wildlife manager in Minnesota. He can be reached at

bklemek@yahoo.com.

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