May 21 2012

Chickadee Nest

Last week several families of chickadees fledged in Schenley Park.  Because they keep their nests well hidden, I had no idea so many chickadees were nesting until I encountered hotspots of begging babies on my walks to work.

What does a chickadee nest look like?  Marcy Cunkelman sent me photos of one in her yard.

Chickadees build their nests in cavities using old woodpecker holes, birdhouses, or holes they excavate for themselves in soft rotting wood.  It takes a pair of chickadees 7-10 days to excavate a new hole 5″ deep.  While digging they carry the chips away from the site.  Marcy’s chickadees saved a lot of time and trouble by using the PVC-pipe birdhouse she provided.

 

When the hole is complete, the female spends 3-4 days lining it with wool, hair, fur, moss, feathers, fuzzy insect cocoons, and cottony fibers(*).  Then she lays 5-10 eggs.  Marcy’s chickadee laid six.

The eggs are 15.2 x 12.2 mm — smaller than a dime!  The female begins incubation after laying the next-to-last egg and incubates them alone until they hatch in 12-13 days.  Her mate feeds her on the nest so she doesn’t have to leave the eggs.

 

When the eggs hatch the babies are naked and sightless but soon begin to grow feathers as shown below.  At this stage their big wide mouths are their most noticeable feature.  The babies keep their parents busy filling those mouths.

 

At 12 days old, the babies look like chickadees and are the same size as the adults.  They can fledge at this age if the nest is attacked but will wait until they’re 16 days old if the nest is safe. Here the six babies are just a little too young to fledge.  They already look like chickadees.  Very cute!

Normally the entire brood fledges within 24 hours.  Marcy says hers fledged while she was out for the day.

Chickadees usually raise only one brood per year so this pair is done for now — except that they have a big job ahead of them. They have to teach six juveniles how to stay safe.

 

(photos by Marcy Cunkelman.  (*) Information from the Petersen Field Guide to Birds’ Nests by Hal H. Harrison)

p.s.  Black-capped and Carolina chickadees have mostly separate ranges (north and south) but on the chickadee border they hybridize.  Marcy’s house is on the chickadee border so she can’t say for sure which species nests here.

29 responses so far

29 Responses to “Chickadee Nest”

  1. Kathyon 21 May 2012 at 10:40 am

    How interesting! Thanks Kate. Oh..of course cute and adorable! 🙂

  2. Jonion 21 May 2012 at 12:05 pm

    Love the chickadees–such sweet little birds–actually had one eat from my hand. A few years back, I had a family in my birdhouse. Was so excited; but, the following year, some wrens were so aggressive that the chickadees were having a difficult time trying to make a nest–they put up a good fight, tho. This went on for a week, or so. The birdhouse was right outside of my kitchen window. I hung another house on the opposite side of the garage, but that didn’t change anything. Finally, decided to just take down the houses (of course, there weren’t any eggs). I didn’t know the wrens were such aggressive little birds.

  3. Jim Valimonton 21 May 2012 at 6:17 pm

    I had a chickadee nest in an old apple tree in my yard this spring. They were starting to bring food to the nest, so I assume that the eggs had hatched. But the house wrens returned and within a few days, I saw chickadees looking in the cavity but not going in. The male started singing again (singing both the Carolina and the Black-capped songs). House wrens just do not tolerate any other cavity nesters nearby. This happened years ago to a pair of titmice that nested in my yard.

  4. Kathy Detweileron 21 May 2012 at 10:24 pm

    Chickadees are one of my favorite birds! Never knew about their nesting, very cool!

  5. John Englishon 21 May 2012 at 11:44 pm

    I had chickadee and tufted titmouse battling over a knothole in my sycamore. The territorial battle was lost to a sparrow!

  6. Paula Wardon 21 Apr 2014 at 9:37 am

    We put up a wren house recently (earlier than normal) and just noticed this am that a black capped chickadee has been investigating the house going in and out. I would much rather have them nesting than the wren. I’m afraid if the chickadees nest there that when the wren returns later this spring they will destroy the nest.

  7. Kate St. Johnon 21 Apr 2014 at 10:27 am

    Paula, that’s a possibility. In Pittsburgh the house wrens aren’t back yet … but they will arrive soon.

  8. Amyon 07 Mar 2016 at 5:56 pm

    Put wren guards on houses! There’s nothing sadder than finding a destroyed chickadee nest. Also you can attach a predator hole protector!

  9. Maura Marshalekon 20 Apr 2016 at 6:22 pm

    Hi there- we have been hearing a pecking sound outside if our bedroom window. I went to investigate today only to find this dear bird under my window working diligently to make the opening larger. We knew some of the wood had rotted during the winter but apparently someone has or will be laying eggs. How long should we wait before repairing the area? We want to be sure that the eggs have hatched and the family is gone. Any advice is appreciated.
    Thank you.

  10. Kate St. Johnon 20 Apr 2016 at 9:05 pm

    Maura, the bird is probably a woodpecker. It may be pecking to get bugs out of the wood or it may be making a nest. The amount of time to wait until the baby birds fly depends on the species of woodpecker. If you live in southwestern Pennsylvania here are a few woodpecker species that might with the following wait times:
    Northern Flicker: 12 days until the eggs hatch, then 24-27 more days until the baby birds fly = 36-39 days
    Red-bellied Woodpecker: 12 days until the eggs hatch, then 24-27 more days until the baby birds fly = 36-39 days
    Downy Woodpecker: 12 days until the eggs hatch, then 18-21 more days until the baby birds fly = 30-33 days
    Hairy Woodpecker: 12-15 days until the eggs hatch, 28-30 days more days until the baby birds fly = 30-45 days (more study needed on this species)
    Pileated woodpecker: This is a very large woodpecker, the size of a crow, and would have startled you by its size so I doubt this is the one hammering on your house. … It has a much longer nesting duration because it is such a large bird.
    If you don’t live in southwestern PA and would like to know more about woodpeckers in your area, please leave a comment with your location.

  11. Kathleenon 04 Jun 2016 at 12:06 pm

    The chickadees fledged from our bird box yesterday. Unfortunately we were not here to see it. However a youngster sat on the railing beside me in the evening sun. Very special moment for me.
    Will the nest be used again? Or should we clean it out now?
    (Nuthatches nested and fledged from the other birdbox- they keep coming back to visit the house. )
    Should we leave the nests or clean them out? And should we wait until autumn?

  12. Kate St. Johnon 04 Jun 2016 at 2:00 pm

    Kathleen, here are some answers to your questions about chickadee nests. These answers come from Cornell Lab’s Birds of North America Online and apply to black-capped chickadees.

    “Reuse of Nest: Rare, except where alternative sites unavailable. When old cavities are reused, clutch size is larger and laying date is earlier. If a nest is lost to predation, typically replacement nest is some distance away. Distance between nests in subsequent years is usually further than 60 m. When reusing an old nest, or using the nest of another species (such as Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus) birds will further excavate the bottom of the nest cavity.”

    Artificial nest sites: “Chickadees prefer artificial nest snags to nest boxes, but for both types of artificial nest, use increases if cavity is filled with wood shavings.”

    Wild Birds Unimited’s Blog says this about cleaning out the nests: http://web.archive.org/web/20131109001344/http://blog.wbu.com/2012/03/23/chickadee-nesting-question/

  13. Anthonyon 19 May 2017 at 9:56 pm

    Great thread! I just watched our first resident of our birdhouse, a chickadee, care for her newborns. Now they’re gone, and I wonder if I should clean it out before next year.

    That last post you linked to has disappeared, but I found it on the Wayback Machine.

    http://web.archive.org/web/20131109001344/http://blog.wbu.com/2012/03/23/chickadee-nesting-question/

  14. Sheri Blaaon 25 May 2017 at 9:27 pm

    Our landscapers found a nest of chickadees while cutting down a dead tree in our yard. We were able to save the five babies, and placed them in a grass-filled container at the base of the former tree site. There was no nest since they were using the cavity of the tree trunk. I’m guessing they were 3-4 days old. Once the parents saw that they were safe, we moved the container to an overgrown honeysuckle vine immediately next to the tree site, hiding them from predators the best we could. We were able to watch the parents (from a window) swooping in and out of the container for two days. On the third day, the container was still in place but empty. Is it possible the parents were able to move them to another location? We don’t see any evidence of them anywhere, alive or dead, and the container was still intact with the grass still in place, and the one unhatched egg still inside. This leaves me to believe they weren’t consumed by predators, but seeing the size of the babies, I can’t imagine the parents would be able to lift them. We’re so worried about our little babies. 🙁

  15. Kate St. Johnon 25 May 2017 at 10:54 pm

    Sheri, the parents cannot carry their young. Alas, the situation you describe sounds like a predator found them.

  16. Sherion 26 May 2017 at 10:17 am

    Thank you for your response. That was my fear. So sad.

  17. Jeanetteon 30 May 2017 at 8:29 am

    My dogs found a nest, is there anything I can do to protect the nest from them. One baby fell out but I put it back in. Would hate to see it happen again.

  18. Jeanetteon 30 May 2017 at 9:11 am

    OK so the birds keep pushing the babies out of the nest so what I did was took a bucket with a towel and a nesting in there and placed it by the old nest the parents are flying around it will they find it ? I want to be able to move it so that way my dogs can’t get it

  19. Kate St. Johnon 30 May 2017 at 9:43 am

    Jeanette, the parents can find it. If it’s chickadees, they expect the nest to be covered (in a box or hollow tree) so may be confused by an open top bucket.

  20. Jeanetteon 30 May 2017 at 11:18 am

    I have placed the bucket closers to the hole in the tree, and I have seen them go nine and out. What can I do for a more permanent place? So if I place it away from the old spot they will find their babies?

  21. Kate St. Johnon 30 May 2017 at 2:21 pm

    Jeanette, it’s best to be near the original nest location.

  22. Lucinda Smithon 04 Jun 2017 at 9:14 pm

    Last weekend we had 2 chickadees hollowing out a nest in a tree stump on our campground site in Carver, MA. This weekend we saw they have 4 eggs (Sunday) in the nest. Not sure if momma will lay anymore this week while we are gone, but will see on Friday when we return. We should be able to figure out when they will hatch based on the number of eggs on Friday I hope. After they hatch and fledge, will the parents stay at the nest? We want to keep tabs on our little feathered friends. Should I put out suet cakes near the nesting area?

  23. Kate St. Johnon 04 Jun 2017 at 9:25 pm

    After the eggs hatch the parents will be very busy feeding the young in the nest. After the young fly the family will stay nearby for a few days and then explore further. Chickadees don’t migrate so the parents will be nearby for as long as they live.
    Meanwhile, suet might be nice but it could attract mammals which would then discover & eat the chickadees’ babies. The parent chickadees picked that site because they think there’s already enough food. So in my view suet isn’t necessary.

  24. Nancy Obergon 10 Jun 2017 at 12:52 pm

    Has anyone had a Blackcapped chickadee build her nest on the ground? I discovered a nest with four eggs while weeding in my perrenial flowerbed. All four eggs have hatched and are babies are four days old now. We’ve had chickadees in our apple tree holes and garage soffits but never on the ground….It seems so dangerous….we have Eagles and Hawks on a daily basis. They’re under a large Azaela shrub and well hidden by flowers, but extremely vulnerable .

  25. Ginger Wells-Kayon 12 Jun 2017 at 4:33 pm

    Have not seen chickadees at the bluebird box for weeks, so just now looked inside. 5 babies with mouths wide open surprised me!! I watched on and off for an hour from inside the house – no adult birds in sight. Would the eggs hatch and the parents abandon nest?

    I watch the next box daily from our porch. where we eat meals, and from the kitchen window. where I do dishes, prepare food, etc. So I see the box frequently throughout the day. In the spring there was lots of daily activity as they built their nest in this bluebird box. Is there a certain time of day that they bring food to their young?

  26. Kate St. Johnon 12 Jun 2017 at 4:37 pm

    Ginger, wait and watch. If the parents saw you at the box they will wait until the coast is clear.

  27. Ginger Wells-Kayon 12 Jun 2017 at 4:59 pm

    OK, but I have seen no adult birds for weeks now. O winder if they met their demise somehow?

  28. Kate St. Johnon 12 Jun 2017 at 5:04 pm

    The babies have to eat several times an hour. They would not be alive at all if their parents had been gone for weeks. Nesting birds are very secretive. Since these are alive, it’s best to leave them alone and stay away.

  29. CKon 17 Jun 2017 at 9:17 pm

    We have lived in our house for 11 years now. There is a birdhouse attached to the house outside our kitchen window. No birds have ever nested in it while we have lived here until this year when chickadees took it up a few weeks ago. We have watched in awe as every day from dawn to dusk the parents fly in & out catching worms, etc & to feed the chicks. Today I saw one leave the nest & begin flying from tree to tree around our back yard. So adorable! I have been out for a few hours this afternoon & all seems quiet in the birdhouse since my return. I hope they all made it!

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