Bird of the Week

Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the mountain chickadee.

This passerine songbird appears similar to the black-capped chickadee by displaying a black cap and throat, white cheeks, darkish gray upperparts and gray, buffy flanks. The mountain chickadee’s black cap is cut by a white eyeline. Similar plumage is shared by juveniles, females and males. Habitation occurs in coniferous forests on the slopes of western mountains during the summertime, but winter brings them to Pagosa Springs feeders at lower elevations. They band together with other songbirds, especially nuthatches.

Mountain chickadees form long-term, monogamous bonds and are usually permanent residents. The female gathers material and builds fur-formed, cupped nests in easily excavated aspen softwood for incubation of five to eight white eggs for 11 to 14 days. Initially, the male brings her food, but as the hatchlings develop, the female assists in food gatherings. In Pagosa Springs, extra living quarters (birdhouses) built and placed prior to breeding season by Weminuche Audubon encourages habitation.

Mountain chickadees demonstrate active, acrobatic behavior and hang inverted on limbs and twigs to eat pinecone seeds. Peanut butter, suet and black sunflower seeds are favorite feeder foods during the winter. Sunflower seeds are aggressively tapped and spliced against a branch, stored in the fall and consumed in the winter by the mountain chickadee.

During warm months, their diet consists of protein-rich insects (beetles, aphids, caterpillars, fly larvae) and spiders, and is supplemented by seeds and nuts, but chickadees are dependent on feeders during cold winters.

Mountain chickadees are beneficial in the removal of tree-killing beetles and caterpillar larvae. This songbird’s population is presently stable.

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