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What Do Chickadees Eat? Complete Guide to Chickadee Food
Chick-a-dee-dee-dee! You probably hear their call every day in the winter, and you’ve likely see them fluttering from branch to branch in your trees and bushes. But if you’re just getting started birding (or even if you’ve been watching birds for a while) you might wonder: what do chickadees eat?
Black-capped chickadees are some of the most common winter birds in the northeast. While they’re around in the summer too, it seems like winter is prime time to see them. That’s probably because of all the snow and cold, which increases their daily food intake needs (while also making it harder to find food). Look closely, though, and you’re sure to notice them around all year long.
Chickadees are omnivores, and not very picky ones at that. However, they do have certain preferences when it comes to their food. Here’s a list of what your chickadee visitors like to eat year-round.
Chickadees love seeds. Sunflower seeds, nyjer (thistle) seeds, and safflower are all excellent options. Their favorite of all seems to be sunflower seeds, though, whether they’re black oil, hulled, or striped.
To save some money, consider planting sunflowers in your garden, then leave the seeds once the plants have matured. Chickadees will flock to the flowers during the summer and can cling to the flower’s face while eating. If they don’t finish eating by fall, you can always collect the seeds for winter or just leave them on the plants so the chickadees can get an autumn or winter snack.
You can feed chickadees by hand with some practice. When you’re getting started, a handful of sunflower seeds can be the perfect attractor for the little birds to come closer to you and eventually learn to trust you.
A chickadee’s preferred diet is actually most easily found in spring and summer: insects! Chickadees will eat a variety of insects in every stage of life, from eggs and caterpillars to fully grown adults. They also like slugs and spiders.
Even in winter, a chickadee can still eat insects. Only about 20% of a chickadee’s winter diet comes from “typical” bird food. The rest comes from spiders and other dormant insects, as well as carrion when food is especially scarce.
To offer insects to your chickadee friends, consider purchasing some mealworms to throw outside once in a while. They enjoy them just as much as chickens do!
Like many birds, chickadees enjoy peanuts. If you watch, one will often take a peanut half between its feet and peck at it. They also are happy to eat walnuts, pecans, and almonds, if you have some extra ones laying around.
Nuts alone aren’t the only thing they like – chickadees also love peanut butter! You can mix peanut butter with seeds for them and set it out, or you can just spread creamy or crunchy peanut butter straight onto a tree or wooden post and watch them flock to it.
Chickadees require plenty of fat and protein to survive, so they are also attracted to suet cakes, especially ones that contain the fruits, nuts, and seeds previously mentioned.
Additionally, if you already have the ingredients, you can always make your own suet.
In the summertime, chickadees are just one of the birds you’ll see all over your blueberry bushes. While it can be frustrating if you want the berries for yourself, plant plenty, and the chickadees can have some too.
They enjoy fruit throughout the year, although of course it’s harder to come by in winter. You can set out any type of berry, cut up grapes, or even chopped up apples and pears in the wintertime to give them a fresh treat.
What Birdseed Mix Do Chickadees Eat?
If you’re trying to attract chickadees to your yard, any variety of the past foods will work. Chickadees eat pretty much any regular bird food. But if you’re looking for varieties that can target chickadees specifically, you can get a special chickadee mix.
Personally, I use Wagner’s Greatest Variety in our feeders, and there are always plenty of chickadees ready to eat it, even if it isn’t formulated for them alone. It contains a good portion of the sunflower seeds they love. The mix also attracts plenty of juncos, blue jays, nuthatches, titmice, and more.
Fun Chickadee Food Facts
• Did you know that after a particularly cold night, chickadees have to replace up to 10% of their body fat? This is why they often frequent feeders in the morning and evening.
• These birds are grazers – they need to eat approximately every 30 minutes.
• Chickadees are known to hide their food for later in a process called caching – in fact, their tiny brains can remember thousands of different food hiding places! By the next year, they can forget all the old hiding spots and replace them with more recent ones.
• Chickadees require about a third of their body weight in food every day to stay healthy. After all, it’s a lot of work being a busy little bird!
Now You Know What to Feed Chickadees!
Hopefully you know have a good understanding of what chickadees eat. Happy feeding and chickadee watching. Let me know below what your chickadees enjoyed eating the most!
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