Two or three of my all time favourite birds are in the Paridae family, if this doesn’t ring any bells don’t worry, I had to look it up too. You don’t have to have the scientific names of every bird memorized to be what everyone seems to term an “avid birder”. On the off chance you ever need that information it readily available, all my field guides include them and of course there’s Wiki.
Our representatives of this family are the Black-capped Chickadee, Boreal Chickadee and (recently) Tufted Titmouse, I say two or three of my favourite birds because I’ve yet to meet a Tufted Titmouse but from what I see I’m sure I would love to have one at my feeders.
I don’t think I’ve met more than a handful of (grumpy) people who don’t include the Black-capped Chickadee in their most liked birds, being our provincial bird I think it’s required on your New Brunswick citizenship application.
These tiny acrobats are at home spending much of their day upside down gleaning insects from tree branches and making frequent trips to the sunflower feeder. Any day now we’ll hear more of their territorial fee bee call, as the days lengthen even more the urge to set up territory will go into overdrive. As spring approaches you’ll have fewer visits to the feeders as Black-capped Chickadee have a rather large 10 acre territory, so most feeder yards will be lucky to have even one pair through the breeding season. That their diet changes from 50% seeds in winter to 10% in summer also accounts for a decrease in feeder activity. For now though, chickadees are likely one of the most numerous species at the feeders, enjoying black-oil sunflower, hulled sunflower, suet and occasionally other seeds, they can also be seen hammering open rather large pupae and hovering around window sills and under eaves for spiders and their eggs.
They’ll excavate their own cavity for nesting, or take a man made nest box, with inside dimensions from 3x3 to 5x5 inches and a hole as small as 1 ⅛ inches. Since they’ll readily take a box also used by Tree Swallows and Eastern Bluebirds, I tend to make my holes 1 ½ inches to allow the larger species while still thwarting the dreaded starling. This increases the odds of getting a bird nesting in your yard. The small hole is a good idea if you live in an area with House Sparrows or want to place the chickadee house on the edge of the woods where squirrels would likely take it over. In this case I use the metal predator guards with a 1 ⅛ inch opening to keep the squirrel from enlarging the hole.
The Boreal Chickadee is a close cousin to the Black-capped, but not seen nearly as often. The occasional feeder operator is lucky enough to host a one, but most sightings are made in a spruce forest sending beginners and non birders running for a field guide. Noting the brown chickadee I’ve had some folks mistake this for the Chestnut-backed Chickadee, but a quick check of the range maps and a look at the Boreal’s picture usually confirm what they saw. If you’re on a mission to add this bird to your list, you’d be wise to learn the song, you’ll recognize it right away as a chickadee but it’s more nasal and harsh, with the emphasis on a different syllable.
A very hardy permanent resident, this tiny bird stays put year round as far north as the tree line, but a true Canuck they rarely venture across the border into the US, you pretty much have to come here to see one. Which may help explain the relative lack of information when compared to it’s more common relative. The Boreal is often left out of beginner guides, and when I checked the usual on line sources the information is so scarce I thought all the white space on the page was a computer error. I even noticed a mistake on my favourite website, www.allaboutbirds.org, hosted by Cornell University. So I guess nobody’s perfect. Check it out, if you notice the mistake, drop me a line.
This bird will nest in the same box as the Black-capped (but I can only recall 2 reports locally), and also excavate their own cavity. They also stash food for winter, the seeds are usually from spruce, but mostly it’s insect larvae that get stored. I wonder what happens to these if the bird doesn’t retrieve them? I’d be scratching my head if I came across a hollow tree full of larvae from a variety of species.
I remember getting numerous reports of Tufted Titmice years ago and I always thought they were actually seeing waxwings (especially when there were flocks of them), but never say never, the Tufted Titmouse has been expanding it’s range and is now in New Brunswick, hopefully I’ll live long enough to host one in my own yard.
I’m not sure why they call it the “Tufted” Titmouse, I know you’re going to say because it has a tuft on top of it’s head, but that doesn’t differentiate it from all the other titmice, they’re all “tufted”, although all my guides call it a crest, so maybe I’m missing something.
They visit the feeders in much the same way as the chickadee, taking one seed at a time, they also nest in old woodpecker nests or a nest box, but Tufted Titmice don’t excavate their own cavity.
Again, the key to first seeing this bird is learning the songs, they have a chickadee like call but also a loud peter, peter, peter song. It’s always a good idea to learn the most common birds songs, if you know the Black-capped’s repertoire, you’ll recognize the difference when you hear a Boreal or Titmouse.