Mountain Chickadee: The Masked Bandit of the bird feeder!

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Photo by Don Bartling The Mountain Chickadee is a common and widespread bird in Boundary County who can be seen at feeders most any day this winter.

As I was watching our bird feeder on the west side of the house I noticed an unusual increase in activity at the feeder. I thought it was a chickadee, but on closer inspection I observed it had a mask.

The Mountain Chickadee looks very similar to the much more widespread Black-Capped Chickadee, but has a single white line — like an eyebrow — over the eye and a black line below that, through the eye. This gives the Mountain Chickadee a masked look. Males and females look alike. These are very active birds and are more easily heard before they are seen, since they prefer to live in forests of large evergreen trees. They have a chic-a-dee-dee-dee sound, hence their name.

The Mountain Chickadee is a small and busy little bird, which can be seen almost any day this winter at our feeder. They love to fly from the pine trees over to the feeders, grab a small seed, and then fly back to the tree to eat.

The Mountain Chickadee is a common and widespread bird in Boundary County and North Idaho who prefers to live in or near conifers. Like its chickadee relatives, the Mountain Chickadee is active and noisy as it forages high in the tall trees, often in mixed flocks with other species. These chickadee friends probably benefit from the Mountain Chickadee’s inquisitive nature while foraging and its watchfulness in avoiding predators and danger.

Mountain Chickadees forage by gleaning insects and spiders from tree branches and bark. They also will hang upside-down like tiny acrobats to pry seeds from pine and spruce cones, and they regularly hover to glean insects from the undersides of branches and leaves.

As its name suggests this is a bird of the mountains, ranging from western Canada south through the Rocky Mountains to west Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and west to California. It nests at high elevations and may move to lower elevations in winter, though this is a year-round resident across most of the range. Mountain Chickadees are nearly always found near conifers-spruce, fir, and pine trees.

Their diet during spring and summer is largely insects, spiders and berries. In fall and winter, they shift to seeds. Within their range, Mountain Chickadees can become regular visitors to bird feeders, where they prefer sunflower seeds and hearts, peanut bits, and suet. A source of clean water in a birdbath or water feature helps attracts chickadees.

Both males and females will work to excavate or enlarge a nesting cavity in softwood and to build the nest inside, which is made out of fibers of bark, plants, grasses, moss, and animal fur or bird feathers. As many as a dozen eggs will be laid and incubated by the female for about two weeks.

Nestlings are fed a diet of insects and spiders by both parents for about three weeks before fledging. If a nest is disturbed, the incubating female or nestlings may hiss like a snake and flutter her wings to discourage predators.

Enjoy the beauty of Boundary County!

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