Busy bird in winter just trying to stay warm

All hail the mighty black-capped chickadee, a tyke of a bird just trying to survive the cold of winter. I get tired just watching this bird at the winter bird feeder, gathering seeds in a frantic effort to boost metabolism and stay warm.

The chickadee is a common bird at Wisconsin feeders all year. But in winter they tend to gather together in larger flocks. Their mission is simple: stay warm when it gets cold, and they have some unique strategies to accomplish this feat.

In the summer, the chickadee feeds on all sorts of bugs, spiders, and caterpillars. In winter, it eats the equivalent of 250 sunflower seeds. That includes suet (animal fat). The shear volume of food weighs a lot more than any individual chickadee. But it is all in an effort to ramp up the metabolism and keep body temperature around 108°.

Research has shown that the plumage the chickadee grows in autumn weighs 25% more than the bird's summer plumage. Fluffing up the feathers and creating air gaps help to insulate their bodies from the cold. Oh yeah, and then the best trick of all. At night in winter, the chickadee can drop its body temperature from 108° down to 85°. This slows metabolism at night so the bird consumes less calories to stay alive.

When you gaze out at the bird feeder this winter, keep an eye on that busy chickadee. They are eating for survival and succeeding.