When it comes to prairie winters and wildlife, there are three main strategies for surviving, hibernation, migration, and adaptation. There are a variety of animals that go with hibernation and migration but there are also few who choose to tough it out.
Chickadees are a highly-recognizable animal that have adapted to winter life and can stay in this habitat year-round! And they have evolved a few key adaptations that allow them to make the most of the winter months in the Meewasin Valley.
These adorable little birds can be found all over Meewasin but they are mainstays of Beaver Creek. The interpreters there can provide you with black oil sunflower seeds, which the chickadees love and will eat right from your hands. Donations help us to continue feeding the chickadees and with the upkeep of the site.
Staying toasty warm
This little bird’s feathers are great insulators for keeping them warm even in very cold, winter temperatures. They actually have heavier plumage in the winter than they do in the summer. The difference is their winter feathers are exceptionally good at fluffing up. If you’re looking to impress your friends, the fancy word for this is piloerection.
Size matters, especially in winter
Chickadees are one of the smallest birds to survive in northern climates during the winter. They do this by using their own body fat to keep them warm. As such, they spend most of their days eating seeds, berries, insects, and occasionally fat from animal carcasses.
Even in winter, approximately half of a chickadee’s diet will be made of up of insects. They love to eat small eggs or larvae of insects and spiders which are nestled under tree bark.
As strange as this sounds, chickadees gain an additional 10% of their body weight every day due to the crazy amount of food they eat all winter. They need this to account for the extra energy that they burn in order to stay warm at night.
Warm inside and out
During cold winter nights, a chickadee’s body temperature drops substantially in order to reduce the amount of energy their body uses. This is a unique type of hibernation called torpor, which is like regulated nocturnal hypothermia that occurs each night.
This allows the bird to conserve a great deal of energy, usually about 25% of its hourly metabolic rate. In fact, the lower the outside temperature, the higher the percentage of metabolic energy the chickadee will conserve. They’re very adaptable to the temperature.
Location, location, location
Chickadees love to nest in abandoned tree cavities made by other birds like woodpeckers, especially if those cavities are in birch trees. They will fluff up their feathers to trap heat close to their bodies in order to keep these nests warm. These tree cavities are often facing south or east in order to catch as much sunlight and warmth as possible on cold, winter mornings.