A few weeks ago, I found a small patch of yellow crocus blooming in my yard. A few days later, a handful of daffodils displayed their floral finery. This was followed up with the blooming of a few narcissuses. Whenever the blossoms of these hardy plants appear for the first time, each year I know that winter is loosening its icy grip on the land and spring is anxiously awaiting its chance to take center stage.
This is also the time I begin thinking about bird boxes. If this is the case with you, instead of putting up another nest box for bluebirds this year, why not erect one for Carolina chickadees? They face a housing shortage too.
I know that you are familiar with the Carolina chickadee. This is the bird that is so proud of its name it constantly repeats it. If you spend anytime outside in Georgia, you have heard the bird’s chick-a-dee-dee call.
The Carolina chickadee is a feathered sprite measuring only 4 ¼” long. Its distinctive black cap and bib, gray wings and white underside are recognized by Georgians that have only a passing interest in birds. This bird can be viewed without the aid of a pair of binoculars since it often allows us to approach within a few feet before flying away. This is especially true when it visits our feeders.
The Carolina chickadee is a cavity nester like woodpeckers, tufted titmice, eastern bluebirds, great crested flycatchers, and wood ducks. As is the case with all birds that nest in cavities, with each passing year, they are finding it more difficult to find a place to nest and raise their young.
In the case of the Carolina chickadee, it prefers to nest in natural tree cavities and the abandoned nest sites of woodpeckers. However, if they don’t find a cavity that suits their needs, they will either enlarge an existing nest site or fashion a new one.
Homeowners can help alleviate this housing shortage in a couple of ways. We can retain dead trees where they don’t pose a threat to humans or property. However, since this isn’t always possible we can erect artificial nesting boxes for them.
Most nesting boxes erected in the Peach State were built with bluebirds in mind. In comparison, very few boxes are crafted specifically for Carolina chickadees. Although, chickadees use the larger bluebird boxes, most of them are never used as chickadee nesting sites.
One of the main reasons for this is Carolina chickadees and bluebirds prefer to nest in different places. Bluebirds like to nest in open spots. On the other hand, chickadees prefer open woodlands and along woodland edges.
If you have a yard that features scattered trees or borders a wooded tract, and would like to try to become a chickadee landlord this spring, erect a nest box among the hardwoods and pines. Here you can erect either a bluebird box or a specially designed Carolina chickadee nesting box.
A Carolina chickadee nesting box should have the following dimensions: the interior floor should measure 4 inches by 4 inches, and a 1 1/8-inch entrance hole should be drilled in the front of the box 6 to 8 inches above the floor.
The small entrance hole will prevent larger birds from competing with the chickadees for the use of the nest site.
Also, if you erect a bluebird box with an 1 ½-inch entrance hole or a chickadee box, install a steel hole guard around the entrance hole. This will prevent flying or gray squirrels from enlarging the hole and ruining the box.
Boxes should be erected on a metal pole 5 – 10 feet above the ground. Equip each pole with a predator guard. This will help ensure a pair of chickadees’ nesting attempt will not be in vain.
This spring, should you happen to check a box housing a parent incubating eggs, don’t be alarmed when you lift the lid and hear what sounds like the hissing of a copperhead. More than likely, you are hearing an alarm call being uttered by an incubating chickadee. It is thought that the birds make this sound to deter nest predators.
However, if you hear a buzzing sound coming from inside the box, you had better beware. Bumblebees that typically nest in the ground occasionally build their nests in abandoned chickadee nests.
I hope that you will offer free housing to a pair of chickadees this year. This backyard neighbor is an important member of a complex community of plants and animals that make our backyards such special places and they are fun to watch!