Carolina Chickadee (Immature)

On October 17, 2015, I presented An Analysis of 313 nest attempts by Carolina Chickadees in Central Ohio at the Ohio Avian Research Conference held at Denison University in Granville.

During 46 years, from 1969 through 2014, chickadees attempted 313 nests with eggs in bluebird nestboxes, plastic nestjars and other structures that were managed and monitored on a regular basis in Delaware and Marion counties. I will use values attained in this study to make comparisons with the chickadee’s 2021 season.

Chickadee Nestlings - Photo Dick Tuttle
Six chickadee nestlings are close to fledging from their log nestbox.

First, I was very satisfied with the chickadee’s 2021 season because the same species only raised a total of eight fledglings from two nests during the previous season. In 2021, seven nests raised a total of 47 fledglings. I will describe the nest locations and encourage some good conservation goals at the end of this article.

The earliest first egg date (FED) in the 313 nest studies was April 3, 2012. The earliest FED among the 2021 nests was April 9 in Box-3 on the Ohio Wesleyan University campus. Box-3 stands at the southwest corner of the student observatory near Stuyvesant Hall. The chickadees there also raised the largest family of nine young from nine eggs. I did not expect all of the eggs to hatch, but they did.

A second chickadee nest on the Wesleyan campus also had a large clutch of eggs but not all hatched. Box-2 is located in the side yard of the Tree House, a small living unit for students that are expressing their love of nature by majoring in courses that will prepare them for nature related careers. Box-2 is visible from the sidewalk along Rowland Avenue to enable students to see it as they walk to and from their campus homes and their classes. The FED of the chickadee nest in Box-2 was April 17 and they raised five fledglings from a clutch of eight eggs.

The latest FED took place in Box-3 in Delaware State Park north of Delaware where I have been managing nestboxes since 1977. April 28 was Box-3’s FED and it was the latest chickadee egg start in 2021, whereas the latest FED in my 313 analysis was June 6, 1982. Unfortunately, Box-3’s chickadee nest attempt failed sometime after May 1 after four eggs had been laid at a rate of one laid per day. The villain was a House Wren that pecked and evicted each chickadee egg. Wrens also usurped a second chickadee nest in the park sometime after May 10, but the good news is that two park boxes supported successful chickadee nests that fledged six and seven offspring, respectively.

Two additional chickadee nests fledged seven and six young at the Olentangy Environmental Control Center, a Delaware County sewage treatment facility north of Mt. Air along State Route 315. Part of my management responsibility has been to avoid flying squirrels that have become quite common in the riparian zone along the Olentangy River during recent years. While checking the twelve boxes in the wooded zone I must watch where I walk so I won’t trip on exposed tree roots and other hazards. I checked the boxes twice this past spring before I was informed that there was a new eagle nest on the center’s side of the river across from Highbanks Metro Park.

When I checked the riparian zone boxes on April 25, I would occasionally look up and around as I walked. I did not want to act sneaky to spook an alert eagle. So, when I reached Box-8, there stood a riverside sycamore tree about 25 yards directly east of the box, and an adult eagle was perched above a large stick nest. I proceeded to check my box to count five chickadee eggs, then after I reattached the box’s top, I continued on my way. As I walked, I glanced up and the eagle remained in place above its nest.

Years ago, I became convinced that the Highbanks eagles accept people since they rarely fly when they see me, and after all, I didn’t talk since I have always been alone. And, hearing people talk inside the park and seeing and listening to kayakers on the river is fairly common for the eagles, so they have become accustomed to peaceful members of our own species.

Chickadee Nestbox - Photo Dick Tuttle
This log nestbox with its plastic 1-1/8″ hole reducer raises chickadees every year in my backyard. Woodpeckers continue to whittle the log behind its hole patch. 

The chickadee nest that I am most aware of is in my backyard inside Delaware, Ohio. They nest in their log nestbox almost every year. This year, they raised seven after laying eight eggs. Their FED was April 10, and after laying one egg per day, 13 days of incubation and 16 days of feeding nestlings followed to raise  seven young chickadees that fledged to continue their lives as entertainment for their human landlord.

The 2021 chickadee season included 63 eggs laid, 53 (84.1%) hatched, and 47 (74.6%) grew to fledge. After the eggs hatched, parents did an excellent job to feed and fledge 88.7% of their nestlings. Nests were active with eggs and nestlings for 45 days from April 9 through May 23.

Data collected for the 313 nest study recorded active nests during 94 days from April 3 through July 5.

One type of conservation for chickadees is quite simple: if chickadees visit your bird feeder, then they will also nest in your yard. It is that basic. If you feed birds, I urge you to add a nestbox for chickadees. If you have bluebird nestboxes in your yard, great. Also, make sure the chickadee box has a 1-1/8 inch entrance hole. All of my nestboxes inside Delaware City have patches that reduce the entrance hole to 1-1/8″ so I don’t worry about alien House Sparrows attacking our smaller native birds.

To avoid usurpations by House Wrens, put up boxes for them near brushy habitats while erecting the chickadee boxes in open areas near mature trees, etc.

I make my own hole reducers by drilling through sheets of plastic, Masonite, and Ohio DNR plastic signs that have been retired due to obsolete text. For nestjars made from plastic drain pipe, I drill holes in other drain pipes, saw out sections with my band saw, and drill and rivet the hole reducers in place on the drainpipe nestjars.

If you don’t have a workshop, birdseed supply stores, such as Wildbirds Unlimited, sell copper plates, each with a “nesting box entry hole” of the appropriate size for $2.99 each, and squirrels can’t chew the hole larger. There are many merchants with appropriate solutions out there, so have fun helping our chickadees. Conserve on!