Chickadees are so much fun – and they’re not a shy bird. They’re usually the first to check out a new feeder, are often the first on the scene to jeer at an intruder, and we get to enjoy them year round. The species that we have here most abundantly in Loudoun is the Carolina Chickadee although the Black-Capped Chickadee is a rare visitor.
Chickadees are cavity nesters so in the healthy forest habitat they’ll nest in cavities in dead and decaying trees. Around our backyards, we can put up nest boxes for them. Nest boxes should be mounted 5-15 feet high and they should be positioned so they will receive sun for about 60% of the day. I like to mount my boxes on poles with stovepipe guards just as we do with the bluebird nest boxes. That way, they’ll be safe from predators.
The wood for the nest box should be rough on the inside to make it easier for the birds, especially the fledglings, to grasp onto the side as they work to hop out of the box. You can either rough up the wood as you’re building the box or buy wood that is already a bit rough, like cedar. Never use pressure treated wood as it has harmful chemicals infused into it and no need to paint the boxes – the birds like them au natural.
The entrance hole for the box should be 1 1/8″ to 1 1/4″ in diameter. This will allow both chickadees and house wrens to use the box but not house sparrows. Chickadees are small birds and they prefer a smaller box since they need to build the nest to fill the inside base. So, the floor of the nest box should be 4″ by 5 1/2″. The sides should be about 8″ tall by 5 1/2″ wide. If you buy a piece of wood that is 1″ x 6″ x 4′ you’ll have just the right amount of wood to build a box. Here are plans for building a chickadee nest box.
With our bluebird monitoring program, we notice that Chickadees are one of our early spring nesters, often building their soft nests made of mosses and hair in late March, sometimes beating the Bluebirds to the boxes by a week or so.
Chickadees feed mainly on insects so keep your yard free of pesticides. Also provide shrubs and trees with fruits and nuts as a food source through the winter. They’ll also come to visit your feeders through the year – sunflower seeds are a favorite.
Nest boxes also serve as a cozy roost in the cold winter too so at the end of summer, you can clean out the box and put some soft dry grass in the bottom to help the birds stay warm during cold winter nights.
Click this link to check out some Cool Chickadee Facts and hear their songs. A cool fact, not mentioned on that linked but found on other pages is that in winter, Carolina Chickadees can lower their body temperatures and go into a state of hypothermia for up to 15 hours to help them save energy through harsh winters.