It’s fun to see the chickadees come to the feeders. Sometimes I’ll watch as a chickadee very methodically takes just one particular sunflower seed and retreats to a nearby branch. Lacking the strong cone-shaped beak typical of finches the chickadee is incapable of cracking the seed with just its beak. So once perched on the branch it transfers the seed from its beak to its feet. Cradling the seed between the feet it proceeds to chop with its beak to open the seed husk and then quickly consumes the energy-rich kernel. This method works fine but chickadees are better adapted to acrobatically hang upside down to glean insect eggs off the underside of branches than crushing seeds in their beaks.
As a bird bander I know from capturing and weighing Black-capped Chickadees in the morning and recapturing the same individuals in late afternoon that it’s not uncommon to find they have gained 1.5 to 2 grams of fat during the day. If you compare an 11-gram Black-capped Chickadee to a 200-pound human that’s equivalent to the human gaining 24 to36 pounds between waking and bedtime!
Besides their ability to eat and store food chickadees exhibit another remarkable adaptation. To survive the long winter night fast they actually lower their body temperature over 20 degrees F. Just like lowering the thermostat in your house saves energy chickadees lower their internal furnace. We do it to save money; chickadees do it to live to see another day.
I know these little black, white, and grey bundles of fluff and energy have been surviving winters for eons of time, but every time I see them on a cold winter morning I am still amazed. They are my symbol of winter and by surviving winter they somehow help me survive winter as well.