Chickadees the Size of House Cats

“It’s a good thing Chickadees aren’t the size of house cats!” I don’t remember where I read this, but I smile when I refill my feeders and am scolded by an impatient, food-line of Black-capped Chickadees which call my yard home. I doubt I’d be as bold if, in fact, they were the size of cats. Even at their small size, these birds do not find me intimidating. One year, a Chickadee, probably a youngster, repeatedly landed on my hand as I filled the feeders. This kept up for twenty minutes until another, in my mind, more experienced bird appeared. The new arrival scolded us until my new friend flew away. Over the next few days, I looked for him but he never came back to feed from my hand. Scientists tell us not to attribute human characteristics to animals, but I can’t help it. I think that scolding Chickadee was the youngster’s mother, aghast to find her child taking seeds from a stranger. In any event, I am lucky that she weighed-in at under half an ounce and wasn’t the size of a house cat. I don’t think I would have gotten off with just a Chickadee-cursing, if her size matched her personality.

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Black-capped Chickadees live year round in our region and can be heard and seen on almost any walk, whether in the woods or down a side walk. Brian Sullivan on Birds of North America Online reports that males are slightly larger than females. But, to my eye, it is almost impossible to tell one bird from another as they dangle from cones and branches in a big white pine or move, conveyer-belt fashion, back and forth to my feeders.

Bernd Heinrich in his book, Winter World, describes how Chickadees often are found moving about in loose flocks with other types of birds. So, if Chickadees are around, look for other birds which may be nearby including White and Red-breasted Nuthatches, Downy Woodpeckers and Golden-crowned Kinglets. Safety may be one reason these birds flock together. Loud Chickadees may serve as an early-warning-system for the flock. In fact, I’ve learned to look for predators when I hear scolding Chickadees. Recently, at Valentine Farm, angry Chickadees led me to a Norther Saw-whet Owl hiding in a hemlock a few feet from the trail. I wouldn’t have seen it without the mad-as-a-house-cat personality of the Chickadees. (Information sourced from & Winter World, Heinrich, 2004.)

 Mahoosuc Land Trust celebrates its 30th year working to conserve the natural areas of the Mahoosuc Region. Visit us at Valentine Farm Conservation Center, 162 North Road Bethel, ME or to learn about how you can join us for a hike or attend an upcoming event.

 James Reddoch, of Albany Township and Boston leads birding events for the Mahoosuc Land Trust. He can be reached at