Surviving and Thriving
Snow is still
flying over most of the U.S. and Canada, but even in the worst weather we
can still see and hear chickadees. Even on the coldest days of February
these amazing little birds are already singing their spring song. Imagine
weighing 10 grams--about the same as two quarters--and sleeping outside
in the northern states and provinces all winter long, naked as a jaybird!
Black-capped Chickadees do this without any problem. How is this possible?
of all, chickadees grow more feathers. A chickadee body is almost entirely
covered with thick down feathers. Under this thick down jacket, a chickadee's
body is even tinier than it looks. The down feathers provide insulation
to hold the chickadee's body warmth inside. How does a chickadee's body
get its warmth in the first place?
keep active and eat as much as they can! The high energy food the bird
eats is burned up in the body, or metabolized, giving off heat. (A chickadee
in winter eats enough to gain about 10 percent of its body weight in
fat each day, and burns the fat at night.)
- A chickadee
can also increase its heart rate to help keep warm. The energy from
its food gives the chickadee's heart the power to beat (over 600 beats
every minute!) and its muscles the energy to shiver. All this heats
up a chickadee body to about 104 degrees Fahrenheit, only millimeters
from where the air temperature can be colder than 30 below zero!
long, frigid nights of the northern winter, when chickadees can't eat, their
bodies would quickly run out of energy to maintain a 104 degree temperature.
And chickadees don't feel comfortable snuggled up to other chickadees, so
they can't share their body warmth with one another. So when they go to
sleep alone in their little cavities, they turn down their body thermostat
for the night, allowing their temperature to drop over 20 degrees. At first
light, they start shivering, and zip off to eat a frozen breakfast that
will heat them up to face another winter day.
Already Singing Spring Song
as many advantages and disadvantages as you can think of for a chickadee
to sleep in a tree cavity in winter.
temperature, and limited food all tell a chickadee that it's still winter.
But they're already singing their spring song--a clear, whistled "Hey,
sweetie!" or "Spring-time!" Why? Because it takes a chickadee
pair a long time to cement their pair bond and become physiologically ready
for the breeding season. They start singing in earnest in January, in February
they sing more, and in March and April the number of songs goes up even
This! Counting Songs
During the next few months, go outside at the same time of day (preferably
early in the morning) once a week and count chickadee songs for exactly
5 minutes. Graph your data with the date on the X-axis and the number of
songs on the Y-axis.
a Gander at Journey North's Chickadee Dictionary!
Chickadees have many sounds besides their sweet spring whistle. The one
they are most famous for is their "chickadee-dee-dee" call, but
scientists have discovered at least 15 different vocalizations that Black-capped
Chickadees can make. To learn more about chickadee sounds and their meaning
(is this "Chicka-deese"?), check out the brand new Journey
North Chickadee Dictionary. You can find out what's going on in
the chickadees' world if you know what the birds are saying and singing.
NOTE: Be sure to see the Dictionary's link to a fun Chickadee Vocabulary
Quiz that helps you test your "Chicka-deese" and get ready for
the next challenge question!
Have you read the Black-capped Chickadee Dictionary and taken the Chickadee
Vocabulary Quiz? Then you're ready for this:
call will a female chickadee give when she wants to say, 'Hiya, big boy.
How's about giving me a lil' ol' bug?'
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