A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Gayle Pille: Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, are woodland dynamos

They are little dynamos!

Carolina Chickadee (photos by Gayle Pille)

They are the woodland birds we so often see in our forests and at our feeders.  Nothing seems to slow them down.  When winter sets in, they don’t just survive but seem to thrive in the frigid weather.  It’s the chickadees, titmice and nuthatches that are always front and center, full of vigor and enthusiasm as they travel our woods and neighborhoods in loose flocks.

If you haven’t seen a Carolina Chickadee lately, then you haven’t been keeping your feeders stocked.  They are found at just about any bird feeder, especially those filled with sunflower seeds.  And don’t let these handsome; fragile looking little birds fool you.  They are tough as nails.  When Old Man Winter throws them a punch, chickadees can take it like none other.

At nighttime, chickadees adapt to extreme cold by going into a regulated hypothermia called torpor.  They lower their body temperature by 15-degrees F from their normal daytime temperature of 108-degrees F.  This allows them to conserve about 25-percent of their hourly metabolic expenditure.  Throughout the day their metabolism ramps back up again as they search non-stop for food.  Chickadees can be virtually fat-free in the morning and by late afternoon they are bulging with fat.  They truly live life on the edge.

Tufted Titmouse

Where you see and hear chickadees, you can also expect to hear the peter-peter-peter call of the Tufted Titmouse.  These close relatives of chickadees are similar in size and habits, but are not at all alike in appearance.  Titmice have a crested head similar to a cardinal’s, and are grayish above and whitish below.

Tufted Titmice love peanuts.  Place shelled peanuts on a platform and titmice will sneak in for the bounty before the Blue Jays take over.  And you can easily train titmice to take peanuts from you.  After you’ve established a peanut feeding station, place a chair close by.  Put a few peanuts on your shoe or the rim of your hat, and it won’t be long before these active little birds are eating right out of your hand.  They often seem as curious of us as we are of them.

The White-breasted Nuthatch is a bit more timid than the more gregarious titmice and chickadees, but no less active.

White-breasted Nuthatch

They get their common name from their habit of jamming nuts into tree bark and then whacking the nuts with their chisel-sharp bill to “hatch” out the seed.

With their loud and persistent nasal call, nuthatches are often heard before they’re seen.  They are easily spied in the trees, moving down and around branches and tree trunks as they forage for insects, seeds and nuts.  Sunflower, peanuts and suet are devoured with equal zeal at our feeders.

All three of these birds are cavity nesters and will readily use nest boxes for nesting and roosting.  In fact, nest boxes can be every bit as important to birds in the winter as they are in spring and summer.  On those cold, snowy, freezing nights it’s not uncommon for several birds of a species to cram into a box for warmth, enhancing their chances of survival during harsh winters.

Gayle Pille is a local naturalist and nature writer who many know through her work to establish the five-mile network of nature trails at Highland Cemetery in Ft. Mitchell. She created the cemetery’s popular 25-year-old Wildlife Enhancement Program and works with a small team of volunteers to maintain the cemetery’s wooded walking paths. An avid birdwatcher, Gayle also builds custom wildlife nest boxes for businesses, parks and residences through her business, www.woodlandhabitat.com

Related Posts

Leave a Comment