Black-capped chickadees, from egg to airborne

by Brendan Keegan, Gardener

June 8, 2020

Nestlings at two weeks plus

Black-capped chickadees, from egg to airborne

Black-capped chickadees are a beloved fixture at the Arboretum, one of our common year-round residents and the state bird of Massachusetts. Visitors can easily observe them flitting through the branches, often in small groups during fall and winter and in pairs during spring and summer.

In Boston, black-capped chickadees begin searching for nest cavities around mid-March, weeks before most migrant species return. By mid-April most are building nests and by the first week of May the females typically are laying eggs. The nestlings begin hatching two weeks later, grow rapidly, and start fledging in early June.

Each year, the Arboretum’s NestWatch volunteers follow this process by monitoring over a dozen “chickadee tubes” installed throughout the landscape. These nest tubes are variations on a design by Dr. Desiree Narango and are specifically designed to attract and accommodate chickadees. The following photos depict the life stages of young black-capped chickadees in several different nest tubes throughout the grounds.

A typical Arboretum “chickadee tube”, a derivation of a design by Desiree Narango. The main differences are an overhanging roof to prevent nest predators from reaching into the entrance hole and a recessed wooden floor to reduce water absorption through the venting holes on the bottom. The 1 1/8 inch entrance hole allows only black capped chickadees and house wrens to enter. The tubes are filled to the entrance hole with aspen wood shavings in late winter, as chickadee’s seem to prefer nest boxes which they can excavate themselves.

Mitchell-Stokes-NestWatch

Arboretum NestWatch volunteer Mitchell Stokes inspects a nest tube. Our team of NestWatch volunteers monitor assigned nest boxes and nest tubes every 3-4 days during the breeding season, gathering data on the nesting process of the birds which use them. The data is submitted to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s NestWatch database, advancing the study of bird breeding behavior and helping us track nest usage at the Arboretum.

A pair of black-capped chickadees has excavated the aspen shavings that once filled the entire tube. Different pairs excavate to different depths, although the average is 6-7 inches below the entrance. This may be from a natural inclination to build their nests beyond the reach of common nest predators, such as raccoons and possums. The area below the entrance in this photo was purposefully rough sanded and scratched during construction, in order to provide easier gripping for the exiting birds.

Chickadee eggs

Black-capped chickadees construct their nests with moss, inner tree bark, and soft grasses. They line the nest cup (where the eggs will be laid) with a soft layer of animal fur. These cozy nest materials are necessary in order to keep their eggs and nestlings warm through the chilly spring weather. Female chickadees, like most songbirds, lay one egg per day, usually in the morning. To keep them hidden or perhaps to keep them warm, the female initially hides her eggs under a plug of animal fur whenever she leaves the nest. Clutch sizes average between 6-8 eggs and the female begins incubating once she has laid the final egg (or occasionally the day before). To facilitate incubation, the female loses a patch of feathers on her breast, called a brood patch. When she sits on the nest, her feathers part and the bare skin of her brood patch presses upon the eggs. Even though the skin-on-egg contact increases the heat transfer between her body and the eggs, she still must incubate them for approximately 12 days before they hatch.

1-2 Days, Chickadees

1-3 Days Old: Black-capped chickadee nestlings, like most songbird young, are altricial (born naked and blind). This is opposed to the fully feathered and mobile precocial nestlings of most ground nesting and aquatic birds, such as chickens, geese and ducks. From now until they leave the nest, these young birds are entirely dependent on their parents; without them, they will die. During the first few days they require constant attention. The female spends time in the nest brooding to keep them warm while the male brings them food. Both parents remove their waste, conveniently contained in fecal sacks that can easily be picked up and carried away.

Hatchlings, 3-4 days old

4-8 Days Old: Feathers begin to fill in along the wings, back, and tail, but patches of bare skin can still be seen and the eyes remain closed. The female spends more time out of the nest gathering food and the nestlings grow strong on a protein rich diet of insects (especially caterpillars). They nestlings have huge white and orange oral flanges extending from either side of their small beaks. These help the adults locate and feed them in the dark of the nest.

Hatchlings at 6-7 days

9-11 Days Old: Their eyes are now open and they can see the world around them. Their skin is almost completely covered by feathers. The iconic black and white pattern begins to grow in. When blind, the young typically beg for food even when a human opens the tube to check on them (see the brave, hungry nestling in the previous photo). With sight comes wisdom, and they now all silently hunker down when disturbed.

Nestlings at two weeks plus

12-14 Days Old: The nestlings now resemble their parents. Their oral flanges are receding and their feathers have developed. Instead of waiting passively, they now flap their wings, noisily call for food, and perch in the nest entrance to monopolize the adults’ attention. At twelve days old, the nestlings are now strong enough to fly from the nest if a predator attacks. However, since they lack fully developed flight feathers, they would not be able to fly well or far and face the danger of starvation or predators on the ground. As a result, it is best not to visually check chickadee nestlings once they reach 10-12 days old. That said, the nestlings in this photo are about 14-15 days old. They were checked due to concerns that the consecutive days of rainy weather in early June had compromised the nesting tube (fortunately, it had not). Despite being bothered, all seven young in this photo remained in the tube for another few days before successfully fledging.

Empty nest

14-18 Days: An empty nest! One by one, the young chickadees flap up to the entrance hole and flutter out to nearby branches and shrubs. Although they can now fly short distances, they remain dependent upon their parents for food. The adults continue feeding them, somehow keeping track of this constantly moving clan. After a couple of weeks, the young birds have learned to find food on their own. They either fly away from their parents for good or are purposely left behind by them. Adults at this point require time to regain strength lost from the energy intensive task of raising young. Just 14-18 days from naked and blind nestlings to fully capable and flying young birds.

Juvenile chickadees face long odds. Although the average lifespan of a black-capped chickadee in the wild is about 2 years, it is likely that most of this year’s fledglings will not survive the next few months. However, if they learn quickly to avoid predators, survive disease, and find enough food to live through the hard winter months to come, we may see these same birds again next spring. They will be looking for mates (and nesting sites) to start the process all over again.

 

45 thoughts on “Black-capped chickadees, from egg to airborne

  1. Chickadees do not lay a second clutch, and like to rebuild their nests each year, so you can go ahead and remove the old nest and clean out the nest box. If you leave the nest box up, house wrens may move in during the next few weeks and it might provide shelter for chickadees during bad weather.

  2. The chickadees have moved into the blue bird box, laid eggs and the blue birds are trying to move in. Not sure as to what to do. Should I let nature take its course? And for next year, I will put up another house so as both families can nest. How far apart should they be?

  3. Hi Attres,

    That is hard, but I would personally let nature take its course and see who prevails. Chickadees almost always lose in these competitions, but they are also very clever–they typically investigate several different potential nesting spots before they lay their eggs for exactly this reason. They likely have a back up location somewhere close by.

    For next year (or this year, if you’d like to help the chickadees) try putting up a second nest box but with a smaller entrance (only 1 1/8 inches wide). This diameter entrance hole is just right for chickadees but is too small for bluebirds and all other species except house wrens. It can be close by, the bluebirds won’t care. That way you can enjoy both bluebirds and chickadees in your yard.

    If you feel conflicted about the situation, you could also drill a 1 1/8 inch hole in a piece of wood or sheeting and secure it over the entrance hole of the nest box that the chickadees are currently in. It will reduce the entrance size and prevent the bluebirds from entering. However, it might take a while for them to figure it out and they could continue to harass the chickadees. I hope this helps!

  4. I live near Vancouver, Canada. I have had chickadees nest in a homemade bird house for about 12 years. Each year there are two batches of eggs. The first nestlings leave early in June. Two summers ago it was very hot and there was only one batch of eggs. I think my birdhouse was too hot.

  5. Question: I was able to watch my chickadees mate (made my day). How long after mating are the eggs laid? The pair put nesting materials in the birdhouse, but I have not seen them since they mated. Could they be off foraging for food or did they simply find another nest site?

  6. Hi Rita–thanks for your comments. I’m not sure when egg laying will start in your area. Over here, they typically do not start until late April / early May, timing their egg laying so that the nestlings will hatch when leaves and insects have flushed in the spring. However, if they have already constructed the nest and you have seen them mating, the female should begin laying very soon. She will lay one egg each day in the early morning, so take a look in the afternoon if you are curious. Don’t check more than 2x a week. Chickadees are very cautious and will move to another site if they feel spooked, especially early on in the nesting process. Since you have multiple clutches a year, though, it sounds like a good chance a pair will come back to your nest box.

  7. There is one tiny chickadee in a birdhouse, the mother wanted one that that’ em used 6-8 yrs, only a wren beat her to it, filling it full of leaves, still the Chickadee looked in and went in up to the tail, as if I want his choice nesting place, but it looks taken, but will keep looking in it. The wrens were active but left at times for a few days, now I put out a smaller birdhouse and I saw a Chickadee fly in twice, then not anymore. HOWEVER today curious after seeing it filling the new birdhouse with a nest, as if YAY, then no more sightings of her or him, until today , carefully approaching I could look inside to have one tiny set of eyes looking back, Yep one baby about 9-10 days old. I quickly peeked and left to bother it no more!!! Wouldn’t want it to fledge due to me. So wonder why just one? It’s a small birdhouse 5” 4” 8-9” talk. Only 1 baby? Small birdhouse why? Or?

  8. Hi Janice,

    It depends on where you are located, but you may have seen a female on her nest rather than a 10 day old nestling. At this time of year (in New England at least), the females often remain on the nest when disturbed in order to protect their eggs or nestlings from intruders. They will occasionally do a snake display, hissing and jumping towards the threat. If looked at head on in the narrow confine of a nest cavity, the chickadee’s markings make their bodies appear surprisingly snake like. If you are further south, you could definitely have observed a 10 day old nestling. However, it would be odd for there to be only one left unless the others had fledged already. Perhaps check the nest again in a few days to confirm!

  9. One of my family members found a chickadee egg in the grass while we were walking. We did some research and learned that by looking with a flashlight we could determine if the chickadee was alive. However, this strategy didn’t work and we couldn’t see through the egg.

    Through online research, we learned we should put the egg into a old shoe box with some cloth. We planned to see if the egg would hatch by May 7th.

    What do you advise should be our next steps? If the egg hatches, do we send it to a animal rescue?

  10. We just cleaned out our birdhouse that chickadees used last spring. They had babies and were busy feeding them for many days. One day all activity cease, and I assumed the babies had flown, though thought it odd that I had not noticed them leave. When cleaning out last years nest, we discovered the small bodies of at least six chicks. Why would the parents have abandoned the nest?

  11. The birdhouse mentioned in my preceding comment is a simple homemade box. We live about 45 miles north of Anchorage, Alaska. I so enjoyed watching those busy chickadees last summer and was saddened to learn that they had abandoned their babies. The box is on a post at a quiet end of the garden. We were careful to not go too near the nest except when refilling a nearby bird feeder. Does anyone have any idea why this would have happened?

  12. Hi Andrew,
    Sadly, even with the measures you have taken, I would be surprised if the egg hatched. The embryos require consistent warmth in order to survive and it is hard to say how long it was out of the nest when you found it. I would look up a wildlife rehabber in your area to see if they have the resources to hatch it, since feeding the nestling would also be very difficult. Chickadees are also protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which prohibits handling or collecting of feathers, eggs, nest, and the birds themselves without a permit so you should not keep the egg or the nestling if it does hatch.

    Nest predation is a part of life for all nesting birds and losing eggs or entire clutches is very common. On the other hand, bird eggs are an important source of food for other animals trying to feed their own young. Chickadees have evolved to overcome these challenges and more often than not are successful as they are not a threatened species.

  13. There are a number of reasons that adults may abandon a nest with nestlings. Sadly, the most likely cause is adult mortality. If either adult dies during the nesting process, it becomes much more difficult for the remaining parent to gather enough food to feed themselves as well as the growing young. In this case, the surviving adult may prioritize their own health, abandon the nest, and wait for next year to try again with a new mate. In addition, since male chickadees lack brood patches, they are incapable of incubating eggs or brooding the young to keep them warm after they hatch. Without a parent to keep them warm (especially over the first few days or in cooler weather) the young burn more fat and their development slows.

    Are there any predators in your area that might be a threat to nesting birds in the yard? Down here coopers hawks have learned to hunt around bird feeders and cats surely know that trick as well. I do not believe coopers hawk make it up to you all, but perhaps there are other predators that might explain the parents’ absence. Little birds face lots of threats. However, as long as the nest box is in good condition and in a good location, there is a great chance it will be utilized again. It is certainly enjoyable to watch them, they are very endearing. I hope they come back this spring!

  14. I had 4 chickadees about 11 days old in a bird house. We had a storm with lots of rain but no wind early Wednesday morning. I had never seen the parents in and out of the house but had taken a picture of the babies when they were about a week old. Late yesterday I heard the babies chirping. I wasn’t concerned because there were several adults around. Apparently something happened to the parents during the storm. I found the babies deceased this afternoon. Assuming one of the parents survived wouldn’t they continue to feed their babies?

  15. Sadly, it is quite common for the surviving adult to abandon the nest if its partner dies. Small birds such as chickadees have high metabolisms and require a lot of fuel to keep themselves alive from one day to the next. Although it seems easy in principle for a lone adult to continue feeding the remaining young, it would surely be very difficult for one chickadee to gather enough food for their rapidly growing nestlings (dozens and dozens of caterpillars a day at that age) while also consuming enough to keep themselves alive. However, when food is plentiful, a single parent can continue raising a brood by itself. Perhaps the combination of the rainy weather (not good for catching insects) and mortality of one adult was too much in this case. Is a difficult reality that only a minority of song bird young survive to maturity.

  16. We have a chickadee nest which I am sure by 5 days ago had a full nest and was covered with a large fur plug.There had been activity every day for 10 or more days. As it previously had been a wren house, and an empty box was being used within 50 feet by the wrens, I thought they would be safe. When I spotted the wren singing In the same tree as the chickadee box, then swooped down to look inside the hole, I sensed danger that they would begin to kill the eggs and destroy the nest, so after some research, within 48 hours I installed a wren guard. since then, I have not seen them for three days, so removed it last night, and still have not seen them return to the nest. I looked inside tonight, and everything, including the plug is intact. Did I scare them off. ?

  17. Hi Mark,
    It is hard to say, but chickadees are usually pretty hard to scare off once the eggs are laid. Perhaps carefully lift the plug to double check that there are eggs in the nest (if you haven’t already). If the eggs are there, the chickadees may be back. It was a good idea to put up a wren guard, but if there were no eggs in the nest, the chickadees would likely have been scared away. Also just make sure the wren guard is not so close to the entrance that the chickadees can no longer enter.

    However, since there is already a wren nest close by, you may have done the chickadees a favor if you did scare them off. Wren guards are not always effective and a wren nest that close would definitely mean trouble for the chickadees. House wrens will attack eggs and kill nestlings (or bury them under a false nest of twigs) even if they don’t need the nest site. One of our chickadee tubes last year was dismantled by a pair of house wrens, which never laid an egg within it. It may be a strategy to deter other wren competitors from nesting nearby. The best way to attract both species is to try and put nest boxes for chickadees away from dense shrubs or understory. I hope this helps!

  18. I’ve had a pair of chickadees in the yard each year for a few in a row. They seemed to choose between the nesting box on the porch and a nest in our next door neighbor’s tree. This year, the pair decided on the nesting box after two years in the tree. I was thrilled! It was wonderful hearing the peeps again, and watching the parents flying madly from feeder to box to tree, returning with insects in their mouths. On Wednesday last week, I saw what looked like a fully grown chickadee inside the box through the hole. The babies fledged in the early morning on Thursday and disappeared for 4 days. Then, in the afternoon, all 5 showed up, tweeting, skittering, using the bird bath, saying hello. The parents were still feeding the babies as they flew around in our tree. Now and then, the birds would fly to the nesting box and peer in the hole. One of the babies flew back in! It’s been wonderful.

  19. When talking Chickadees, best to mention species as this site is read all over the place. Here in Washington State (Seattle area) we get mainly Chestnut Back and Black Capped Chickadees (but also have Mountain Chickadees and Boreal Chickadees). I have had both raise broods in my yard at the same time, mine you it was a big yard. I had 4 nest boxes up, all four had Chickadees in them every season. Both Black capped and Chestnut will raise more than one clutch in my experience, one year had a Black capped family try for a third clutch but time ran out and they abandon those eggs. I made my boxes by using real dried out tree logs, hollowed out (yea, its a little bit of work) , with a plywood bottom and a plywood top with hinges so I could check on them. 1 1/8″ entery hole.I made them deep and never cleaned them out season to season, the Chickadees either did that or just modified what was in there. No one empties their nest sites for them in nature. They know how to do it. Anyway, I’ve had great luck, good luck to you all!

  20. Have had chickadees nesting in a birdhouse and now there is furry stuff hanging out of the opening, not sure what this is or why. Wondering if I should leave it alone or investigate, don’t want to disturb the parents if they are still using it, not sure what to do. Thank you.

  21. Hi Diane,

    Have you seen them using the nest box recently? Chickadees use a variety of soft materials for their nests, typically a mix of mosses, grasses and tree bark plus animal fur to line the nest cup. The furry stuff could be nest material brought by the adults that is just caught in the entrance. Alternatively, another bird species could be removing the chickadee nest so that they can use the location or a predator (such as a cat or raccoon) could have found it and pulled some of the nest out while trying to get the occupants. If the nest box is built so that it can be opened, perhaps take a closer look. Generally, if you limit your observation to less than a minute no more than twice a week, the chickadees shouldn’t too disturbed. It is best to check the nest on warm, sunny days to prevent any young nestlings from being exposed to the cold.

  22. Thanks for the tip, Arthur! The post was written with Arboretum visitors in mind and is a nice surprise to see it has reached people much further away. You are definitely right about the importance of being species specific–I’ve amended the article in areas to emphasize those points. To clarify, we only get black-capped chickadees here in New England, but carolina chickadees may start showing up as the region warms. I don’t know of any that have tried a second brood up here, but we could see that begin to change as well. This year, due to the warm spring, the chickadees began nesting much earlier than usual and may have eventually have more time to try a second. Am jealous of the diversity of birds in your yard! I excavated a chickadee log last year, which was readily occupied; definitely a bit more work, but seems a much more pleasant home for the birds as well!

  23. Very interesting. Thank you 😊
    I do have a question. What is the tube they are nesting in. I would like to make some appropriate nesting areas for them.

    Kay

  24. We live in Kelowna, British Columbia. I have a birdhouse with a camera that records based on motion detection. A pair of chickadees started building a nest in our birdhouse April 11. From April 21 the female has spent the nights sleeping on the nest. It is now May 24, and she is out foraging most of the day, but returns several times day with more feathers. The male visits periodically with food in his mouth as if he is expecting to feed her. We were expecting to see eggs when the nest was finished in late April, but it has been over a month since then, and no sign of any eggs. What could be delaying things? Daytime temperatures here are around 18C and it goes down to 9C at night.

  25. We have a family of chickadees in our little chickadee bird house in our backyard… the first was born on Mother’s Day, May 10. I saw one peeping out of the box today and am guessing they’re close to fledging. I don’t know how many there are… but from the sounds of their hungry cries I’m thinking up to five or so… Do they all fledge on the same day? I understand that they fledge in the morning… but is it as the sun comes up, or after they’ve had a good morning meal? This is an event our whole family wants to watch!

  26. Hi Keith,
    Chickadees often cover their eggs with a “plug” of fur and moss; it may be the case that the female is incubating them but hiding them every time she leaves the nest. They are often not visible until the finally begin to hatch. Some species use feathers to aid in insulating their nests and to reduce temperature fluctuations. In total, it should have taken her between 5-9 days to lay her eggs and another 12 to incubate them to hatching. If they are still using the nest, the eggs are there. I hope they hatch soon!

  27. Hi Kelliann,
    That is awesome! They generally all fledge on the same day, sometimes with one straggler leaving the day after. A typical clutch is 5-9 nestlings, it is surprising how many can fit in the nest! They should fledge any day, I’ve seen them leave both in the morning and in the afternoons. Even if you miss the fledging, the family often stays in the area for a few days before moving further away. You will likely see them in your yard–the young chickadees can be identified by their not as perfect chickadee calls, practice flights, and for generally pestering the adults non-stop for food!

  28. Hi Brendan,
    The chickadees finally abandoned the nest. No eggs. Any idea why she would not lay, but would sleep in the nest and keep adding to it for a month? Infertile? Or perhaps I need to relocate the nest box if she didn’t feel safe. I did see bees buzzing around it, but no bees inside.

  29. Hi Keith,

    I’m not sure. Some of the black capped chickadees in our landscape begin excavating wood shavings from our nest tubes almost a month before laying eggs. Usually at least one or two pairs fully excavate the nest tubes but then never actually build a nest. It is common for pairs to scope out multiple locations before they start laying eggs. I’ve never seen a fully built nest abandoned by the adults, but hopefully it was just because they had another location picked out. Not sure where your nest box is, but they prefer to nest near native trees in partly shaded areas. Interesting about the bees; bumblebee queens can actually evict chickadees, often before they the female lays her eggs. Bumblebee queens (foundresses) often look for old mouse nests in the ground but seem to like chickadee nests as well. The moss and fur can provide a nice, warm spot for a future bumblebee colony, which I personally think is just as fun as a nesting pair of chickadees.

  30. Hi Kay,
    I’m sorry for the late response! The nest tubes we use are modifications of the Narango Chickadee Tube, which are themselves based on an older design by Thomas Grubb and C.L. Bronson. Dr. Narango studied chickadees in Washington, D.C. and has some fascinating research and webinars you can find online. Our chickadee tubes are modified with long overhanging roofs to prevent predators from reaching into the entrance holes and slightly raised wooden floors to reduce water seeping into drainage holes. We fill our nest tubes each spring with aspen wood shavings, as chickadees seem to prefer nest tubes which they can excavate themselves. PVC is not a very environmentally friendly material, so we try to get our PVC from old irrigation projects in our landscape. You can also make suitable nest boxes with wood boards or even with wooden logs.

  31. We’ve been enjoying a family of Chickadees in our front yard. Yesterday, my wife said she heard a bunch of commotion in the box with feathers and all, then later found a dead baby and two more hopping around. When I came home from work, I found the remaining live babies and put them back in the box. I’m guessing they’re 9-11 days old. Haven’t seen any signs of the parents. I’m guessing these babies won’t make it, but if they’re still alive when I get home today, does anyone have any suggestions?

  32. I have a family of chickadees in my wren house. the problem is painters are coming to paint. What can i expect if they work a round the the house that’s hanging from the garage.

  33. Hi Jeff,
    It depends on how far along in the nesting process they are. The adults will not give up on their young very easily but may be hesitant to bring the nestlings food if the painters are close by. If the nestlings are young, they’ll just sit tight and wait for food regardless of the painters. If the nestlings are fully feathered (12 days) they may be prompted to fledge prematurely if the painters work very close to them for a while. You could just watch and see how the adults react. Typically, they are so invested in the young that they will try and feed and / or protect them even if humans are near.

  34. Hi Eric,
    It is actually not entirely unusual for young songbirds to spend a day or two on the ground. It sounds like the nestlings you observed were perhaps spooked from their nest box before they were ready to fly. If the adults are in the area, they will continue to find and take care of the nestlings. In general, it is always best to leave young birds on the ground. They are of course very vulnerable on the ground, but in the best case the parents are watching over them and will not abandon them. If the young are still alive, perhaps watch and listen a while for the adults–they are hopefully still around somewhere.

  35. Hi there – I have a nest of black capped chickadees in a birdhouse outside of my home-office window who I believe at least one has just fledged today! I’ve only seen the one, but he seems to be sort of hopping around, flying very short distances and bumping into things – for example, he tried to fly up the window but just ended up clutching the screen for a bit, and then he did fly to a nearby tree. I believe it may be the same one is now sort of hopping around the front stone steps near the birdhouse. Is this normal behavior? Do you know how long it will be until the little guy learns to fly?

  36. Hi Shari–it is not at all unusual for young songbird fledglings to spend a few days on the ground while their flight feathers fully develop. The adult black-capped chickadees will continue watching over and feeding the little guy while it is on the ground. If you listen, you will likely hear them calling to it and the young one responding as best as it knows how. Black-capped chickadees developed pretty quick, so it should be off the ground and flying more consistently within a day or two. It is a fun time to watch and listen for all of the newly fledged birds; we’ve had lots of young robins hopping around the landscape recently and tons of cute cedar waxwings buzzing around as well.

  37. So interesting reading everyone’s experience with nesting birds! I put up a nest box on the wall just outside my front door last winter because a lonesome chickadee was perched at the bottom of a shrub nearby during a blizzard. I thought maybe he would seek refuge in the box, but he didn’t. This spring, I left the box there because it looked nice. Much to my surprise, two chickadees moved in and as I type this, they are busily going back and forth, feeding their babies. I would guess the chicks are about a week old now. It’s fascinating to watch mom and dad, tirelessly making trips to find food and feed their young from sun up to sun down. I can tell from the ‘chatter’ that the chicks are getting older and I’m excited for the opportunity to perhaps watch them fledge. This entire experience is a first for me and it has been wonderful for me and my children to learn how hard these birds work to raise their babies. I feel honored that these amazing creatures have chosen to share their family with me!

  38. Hi Jay,
    That is great that your family has been able to watch the nesting process–thanks for sharing your observations. Chickadees are such charismatic little birds. The huge effort that the adults invest in raising their young is very remarkable and a testament to the driving power of evolution. For many of the adults, odds are that they will only have a couple of chances in their lifetimes to breed and so they truly put everything they’ve got into feeding those nestlings and keeping them alive. The chickadees in our nest tubes this year began fledging last week. After observing all of the work that goes into their nesting process, it is hard not to wish them well. We’ve had chickadees return to several of our nest tubes for consecutive years; hopefully a pair returns to your house next season.

  39. Hello. I do not know how old the baby chickadees are but they were very vocal this morning. They nest in a bird house on my deck. Have for many years. The parents have not been around the entire day. The babies are now very quiet. I fear they have been abandoned I am surprised they did not feed them today. I saw a parent yesterday. Please inform. Thank you

  40. Hi Beth–Is is possible to check inside the nest box? If you haven’t already looked, it could be the case that the nestlings left. If not, what do they look like? In my experience, the nestlings typically do not vocalize very much until they are at least 10 or so days old so based on your description they may be getting close to leaving the nest in any case. Not sure where you are located, but just about all of our chickadee clutches have fledged at this point (I believe only 1 clutch out of the 12 is stilling hanging on). The adults will call to them from outside of the nest box as if to encourage them to fledge when they are ready. I hope this is the case!

  41. I posted up above on May 6th about my chickadees nesting in a box on my porch. (I’m in Northern California.) At the end of the post, I said that they had fledged, and then 5 days later, all came back for a visit, and “a baby” flew back into the box. No! It was the mother chickadee! The next day, I noticed her depositing some fluff in there, and soon the male was back feeding her. Chicks hatched, and just this morning, the second clutch of the year fledged! I miss them already. So wonderful! It appeared that the male most targeted white moths to feed the babies and female with. It was wonderful to watch them, for hours, as I sat in the garden just a few yards away. We had an aggressive blue jay that the parents would give their warning call about every time he came into the yard. I would come out and help in the defense. Yesterday, I knew the little ones were going to fly today, because the parents hopped over to a twig right beside my head. They stayed there for a couple of minutes, cocking their heads at me, making little, very quiet burbling noises. Magic. I’m hoping the little family returns again in a few days for a visit, like in May.

  42. This is fascinating, Jay.
    Thanks for sharing such great images of their journey though the life stages.

  43. I just saw the male bird sitting on my plant hanger with some sort of bug in his beak. The female also came out of the nest and sat across from the male and looked like she was dancing. They did this for several minutes. My husband says maybe she was cooking off. Is that why she was dancing? The male often sits on my plant hanger with food in his mouth before going into the nest. Is he making sure the coast is clear? Or is he waiting for a response from the female?

  44. Hi Sue–you are right to think that the male is pausing to make sure the coast is clear. Adult black capped chickadees (like most songbird species) are always very wary of potential nest predators. There are plenty of clever critters out there that can find a chickadee nest simply by following the activity of the parents. As a result, the adults are generally unwilling to fly into their nest if they discern any hint of danger nearby. This is one reason to give nesting birds plenty of room–otherwise, they may not feel comfortable feeding their young! Regarding the dancing bird, that actually sounds very similar to a description of a recent fledgling begging for food. Young birds of many species beg from parents who have food by flying close by, hunching down, partially spreading their wings, and flapping and chirping loudly. I’ve never seen adult black capped chickadees feed one another, although this is common in species such as cedar waxwings. I hope this helps!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *