Chickadee Nest

21 May 2012:

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.

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

The Nest:

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 by using the PVC-pipe birdhouse she provided.

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

The Eggs

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.

Nestlings

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.  (*) Nesting information is 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.

58 thoughts on “Chickadee Nest

    1. My Carolina Chickadee just died and I am very sad ?, she just pushed him out the nest.???

    2. I love Carolina Chickadee’s I got to bird houses outside my house and the Mom came and just had eggs,I am really amazed how the birds build the nest. I am exited for what will happen next.

  1. 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.

    1. I’m currently going through this same scenario! The chickadees nested and laid 5 eggs in a bluebird house. Only 1 egg hatched. The wrens finally decided they liked the large potted geranium and nested there with 6 eggs. None have hatched yet. They’re all busy parents and appear to be sharing the yard for now.

    2. take some fishing line and pushpin tacks. Criss-cross a x pattern around the pushpins on the roof of the bird house-a square of line around roof , then a x across middle …then bring a strand of line attached to pins down a couple inches on either side of entry hole. You can put a x patter on sides also if you like…Wrens do not like nesting near or being around spider web is one theory and will avoid the bird house usually* ..It has worked for all of mine for years. It wont bother the chickadees…

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

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

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

  5. 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.

    1. 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.

  6. 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?

    1. 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/

  7. 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. 🙁

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

    2. I’m a retired forest ranger and although I did most of my work with Red Cockaded Woodpecker biology I found all kinds of birds in nest trees. I can tell you that like Kate said, predators take many young birds..and believe it or not one of the most common predators on baby birds are Squirrels. They are already adept at entering and discovering tree cavities so it’s a common food source for them.. Raccoons, snakes and other predatory birds take the balance of tree nested birds and ground nesters like quail etc are taken by coyotes in the Southeast, which are hurting their numbers significantly. DOMESTIC CATS do a serious number on birds esp vulnerable newly fledgling birds..I try to keep the cats away, but you can’t be everywhere.

  8. 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.

  9. 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

    1. 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.

    2. 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?

  10. 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?

    1. 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.

    2. Help, I rescued a baby chickadee. My friends cat ran the parents away (or something?) The one I have was trying to fly, but when I shined a flashlight in on the others they didt look so well, in fact Im certain a couple of them were deceased. So Heartbreaking ! So o have the one. I’ve been up all night trying to care for it. He seems spunky and so friendly. I’m feeding him cat food broth but he only takes a tiny tiny portion.. If that. What should I do? I apologize for the heartbreaking story but at least I was able to save this baby. Even though he seems ok at the moment, I’m so afraid he may not make it. He/she is so sweet! Any tips?

    3. Pamela, if you know where the nest is – or was – put the baby chickadee in a bush or on a hidden branch near the nest, or even in the nest. The parents will find it and feed it. It’s important that the baby is not visible to predators. That’s why a bush is a good place.
      After you put it there leave the area for many hours. The parents wait until you’ve been gone for a while before they’ll come feed the baby. If you do these two things you’ve done the very best you can.

  11. 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 .

  12. 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?

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

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

    3. 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.

  13. 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!

  14. We had a chickadee nest in our birdhouse on the balcony. It was fun watching the parents fly back and forth to feed the young. They even ate out of our hands. After the fledglings left the nest we only saw them for one more day and they were gone. Really miss them!

  15. I had a chickadee mother build her nest in my porch eves in view of my TV chair and got to watch the whole brooding period up until this afternoon. I am in Western Maine and they were NOT black capped chickadees so perhaps Carolina? There were four eggs and four nestlings grew to maturity.

    For the last two or three days some of the nestling/fledglings would hop along the eve and flutter into the air but then return to the nest. Today one flew to the next eve, looked forlorn and fluttered back to the nest eve and back into the nest. I have seen 3 Robin broods fledge to the porch floor (usually one at a time over two or three days and then hop to the treeline). I was waiting for the same thing from the chickadees but they seemed about two or three days late on fledging. Two were out of the nest several times today but would hop back in and nap.

    Finally, in the time it took to turn on the AC and use the restroom I came back into the livingroom to find all four fledglings gone. The parents were missing for a period of time but other birds were out so I don’t think there was some kind of hawk tragedy (like one that happened to the Robin brood last year). Then I saw one of the parents on the electrical service lines where they would sit and scope out the area in view of their nest during the brooding period so i’m assuming everything is going to plan.

    My question, not having seen chickadees fledge like the robins, is would a parent lead the four out in one group? There wasn’t even enough time for the four to fledge one after the other so I’m thinking they flew off together. I didn’t see anything on the lawn but the distance to the treeline is only about 20 feet. I know with the robins that I won’t see the juveniles (until a month later when I spotted 2 out of the 3 with a parent one the electrical lines over several days, then not since then) but the parents would come and go from the electrical lines. The mother robin is on her third brood right now in the same nest from last year. Anyone out there have any thoughts about this chickadee brood?

    thanks,
    jim d.

    1. Jim D., Robin nests are too small to hold all of the fully grown nestlings so they are crowded out of it and ‘fall’ out of the nest to walk around before they fly. (Seems dangerous to me but it’s what Robbins do.) As you have seen, chickadees use a different technique. Their nests are big enough to hold every one.

      I have never seen chickadees fledge but it is possible the parents led them to safety or to food. When the young are hungry they follow their parents.

  16. that’s what I was hoping to see, as what I find fascinating is how much parenting goes on with these birds. in both cases (robins and chickadees) the parents would come and go with food and pass each other at the nest.

    I know the fledglings will follow their parents because I did see the last of four robin fledglings perched on the nest looking scared and lonely. finally the adult came to led it to the porch floor and then into the yard. with the chickadees i’ll just have to remember it that way.

    jim d.

  17. Watched since end of April till today nest making male feeding female and parents back and forth feeding young Rain wind and some construction and I only saw one fledge kept watch all day and now we ( parents and I can’t find baby.? If neighbor dog scared it accidentally in bush I

  18. Have a family nesting in a decorative bird house on my deck! So cool to see them come and go, hearing the babies in the house chirping when mom or dad comes with food! I live on the border too so don’t know exactly what breed but they are happy inquisitive little beauties!

  19. I have a nest and been watching the babies grow ! A cat tonight got the mom or dad not sure witch one it is! The babies are getting there feathers! There’s one parent now will they be ok !?? I cried so hard !

  20. My hubby and I have been enjoying a family of Chicadees that nested for the first time in a decorative birdhouse that has been on the porch for years! This morning I could barely see a little white mouth through the small hole! We sit on the porch and watch the male and female taking turns feeding them. I hope we see them fledge ?

  21. Hi! I Just saw this thread with the photos – not sure if you’re still monitoring comments… Do you have more photos from the side to see what this PCV thing looks like? I see many options online but am curious about this one.

  22. This is my 3rd year having chickadees lay eggs in the birdhouse on my balcony (a birdhouse I thought was “decorative” turned into “functional”). I have a birdfeeder next to them and a water source, I felt so bad seeing how hard the mom & dad birds work to feed all the little babies.

    This year I installed a wireless endoscope into the birdhouse so I could monitor without sticking my camera up to the birdhouse and making the momma mad. I have 7 eggs this year!

  23. Last fall I put up a birdhouse in our apricot tree and this spring a pair of chickadees nested in it. The first clue was the sound of the little hatchlings peeping, and then we heard “chicka-dee-dee-dee” and saw a small bird dart in through the hole. We kept our distance as we watched the parents come and go from the nest.
    Yesterday morning, I noticed what appeared to be a young chickadee ready to fledge at the entrance to the hole. My eyesight isn’t great, and the morning light was low, but my husband confirmed what I thought I’d seen. We were thrilled, but left the area so as not to interfere. This morning, I saw a bird there perched in the opening (again?) (still?) I approached and realized the sweet thing had died. No sign of trauma/predation. I discivered that the poor little bird was somehow stuck to the nest with one of his feet through the hole. The nest was otherwise empty, and I found the remnants of at least two chickadee eggs, along with their lovely nest. I removed everything and buried it in the garden. It was heartbreaking. I can’t imagine what happened. Should we install a short perch outside the hole? This birdhouse has a small front opening (maybe 1-1/4” diam) and a back door that swings away for nest removal and cleaning.

    I’m hoping for better luck next year, with a happier ending. Should we relocate the birdhouse?

    1. Are you sure it wasn’t a house sparrow that went in the box and killed the chickadee? Because house sparrows can fit through a 1 1/4 opening you should put a 1 1/8 hole reducer in the box to protect them.

  24. I noticed black capped chickadee parents had used a nest made of birch tree, near my back door. I heard the nestlings chirping, and saw parents coming and going many times in the past two days. This morning I woke to find downy fluff, feathers and a bloody wing beneath nest box. I also saw what looked like moss and soft nesting material on the ground. I’ve a nightly visiting raccoon draining all of my humming bird feeders. Last night I brought in the glass one because the other glass feeder was shattered the previous night. I did leave one feeder out that was next to the chickadee nest. It was also empty this morning. I did see paw prints near the nest. I believe the raccoon scooped out 3 babies. I’ve checked and there are still two babies in the nest. They didn’t make a peep when I opened the lid to look at them. The parent has been back and acting confused. I’m very worried the raccoon will come back tonight and finish them off. Suggestions? I’m thinking of sleeping on my patio.

    1. Clarissa, I suggest bringing in *all* the feeders at night and, if you’re up for it, sleep on the patio. It sounds like the raccoon ate one of the parents.

  25. I have several decorative bird houses around my fishpond. I am in North Carolina. Yesterday we found a black capped chickadee on the ground. It was very sweet… Will put it back on the birdhouse. The parent came back several times and that bird was gone. Later in the day another one was under the birdhouse We’ve watched two birds that look like it bring it worms and what not. As of this evening it is still on the ground … calling for its parents. The parents are visiting every 10 or 20 minutes… Just wondering how long before it takes off (normally).

  26. I have a pair of Chickadees so I bought them a birdhouse and put it up next to my kitchen window. Sure enough, they looked it over and built a nest in it! I’ve been so happy and excited watching the pair build and bring food to the house. The mom was in the nest–I assumed sitting on her eggs for about 12 days–and then a flurry of activity as mom and dad began bringing food to babies. That was 4 days ago and today there’s no activity at all. I’m worried, sad, and afraid. I know the babies are very tiny yet. I saw chickadees at the feeder but they didn’t come to the nest. I’m telling myself it was a wonderful experience–and it was–but still, I’m heartbroken.

  27. I have a little chickadee pair that have nestlings in a box we made right at our front door. I am worried about the young and when they are going to leave the nest. Do the parents push them out and they fall to the floor or can they fly almost right away? There is nothing for these little babies to grab onto from the box, its on the wall and is a few wing flaps from the nearest hanging basket. I am worried they will fall to the ground and we have a cat…What can I do to prevent this from happening? Should I put a platform under the box so they can stand on that if they get pushed out? I don’t want our cat or the local crow to get any of the babies if they are going to hop around on the ground and can’t fly right away. Its a danger zone. What can i do, any thoughts? They might be out in the next week. Thank you 🙂

    1. Tara, the parents do not push them out. The babies will flutter on their own, probably to the hanging basket on their first flight. Keep your cat indoors while they are learning to fly.

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