Everyone is familiar with chickadees. Various types live all over the province. Here, you can read about the least known one, the Boreal Chickadee. Far more common, especially in K-Country, is the Mountain Chickadee.
Three different birds
It’s easy to tell Mountains apart from their Boreal and Black-Capped Chickadee cousins. Mountains have a white stripe on their head leading back from above their eyes, and their relatives have an all dark (black or brown) head.
Mountains are, not surprisingly, mountain dwellers, rarely seen on the prairie or in Alberta cities. They forage all the way up to tree line, moving down to valley bottoms in winter rather than migrating. Boreals handle winter cold snaps by going into a state of torpor for a few days. Mountains will manage it by sunbathing in sheltered spots during the day. They are, however, solitary at night, fluffed up under foliage or under the bark of a tree.
Uniquely, while well suited to winter, hot temperatures can cause them problems. Their solution? Drink a lot of water, sit in the shade, and keep their mouths open. The photo at right was taken during a period of +100° F temperatures during the summer of 2021.
Lunch & nesting time
During the spring and summer, Mountains are primarily insect eaters. Fall and winter turns them into primarily seed eaters, especially from conifers. Since they like conifer seeds, it’s not surprising that dry conifer forests are their home – except during nesting season.
They make small nests in aspen trees, much preferring the soft wood the aspens to that of conifers. They can excavate a nest hole in an aspen (not the hard wood of a conifer). However, they prefer to take over a hole made by woodpeckers or nuthatches. They can lay up to 2 sets of eggs a year. Generally, though, it’s only 1 batch of 5-8 eggs, incubated for ~20 days. That’s almost a full week longer than Black Caps incubate theirs. This is an evolutionary change probably due to being in a colder and more protected environment.
Species apart, but together
In some circumstances, all three primary K-Country chickadees can interbreed and hybridize. Generally, though, Mountains are monogamists and form long-term pair bonds. It’s not unusual to find all three types flocking together, a common winter occurrence. Generally, Mountains will hang out in flocks of 2-3 pairs of adults and their kids, making those typical chickadee noises, and deftly hanging upside down.
Meet more of the critters of K-Country (including some other Chickadees) here!