Chickadee Roosts


The wren houses in our yard look pretty lonely this time of year, but they may not be as lonely as they appear.  I was surprised late one afternoon to see a chickadee fly into one of our wren houses.  I stood and watched the house for a bit, and I can only assume the chickadee spent the night in the wren house.  It appears that those bird houses might not be as empty as we assume.

Most small birds do not stay here through the winter.  For those that do, however, winter obviously requires some adjustments.  Chickadees stay, of course, and have adapted to our harsh winters through a variety of physiological and behavioral modifications.  An important factor for chickadees during the winter is finding a good roosting site.

Some birds will build special roosting nests for the winter, but apparently chickadees do not.  As a result, they need to find a place to hold up during the night as well as find protection during storms.  Apparently a wren house is a suitable roosting site.

I do not clean out the bird houses until spring, and maybe that makes the wren house even more attractive to the chickadees during the winter.

Chickadees are known to look for any sort of small protected place to roost.  Small holes in trees work well, as does thick vegetation, or apparently a bird house.  They are even known to burrow into the snow occasionally to keep warm. However, in the above snow world, nooks and crannies that are just large enough for them to squeeze into are prime real estate.

These cavities are generally smaller than what they would choose for nesting.

If a chickadee can find a small roosting spot that is well insulated, they might be able to reduce their radiant heat loss by up to 100%.  It would be like wrapping yourself up in a big bulky quilt.

Many of you have probably noticed that chickadees often come to the bird feeder for some seeds and promptly fly away with them.  They may eat them, but they may also be stashing the seeds in a winter roosting site.  So, if a storm commences, they may spend their time in a roost with a well-stocked pantry!

So the next time you look out at those lonely bird houses in your yard, give some consideration to the fact that they may be serving as important roosting sites for the chickadees.

Chuck Lura

Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.

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