Chickadees are an energetic, exciting addition to any birder's backyard, and fortunately it is easy to encourage these curious birds to visit. Learning how to attract chickadees is just a matter of knowing what these easy-to-please birds want and how to meet their needs in a bird-friendly backyard.
Types of Chickadees
There are seven types of chickadees that regularly visit and breed in North America, all of which are readily attracted to backyards in their respective ranges.
Birders in some areas, such as the boreal region of Canada and the western Rocky Mountain area, may even be fortunate enough to attract more than one chickadee species where their ranges overlap.
- Black-Capped Chickadee
- Boreal Chickadee
- Carolina Chickadee
- Chestnut-Backed Chickadee
- Gray-Headed Chickadee
- Mexican Chickadee
- Mountain Chickadee
In addition to these species, the same techniques that attract chickadees are also effective for attracting the related titmouse species, such as the tufted titmouse and the bushtit. In Europe and Asia, related tits such as the great tit, blue tit and long-tailed tit will also respond to the same methods used to attract their North American chickadee cousins.
How to Attract Chickadees
Attracting chickadees is easy when backyard birders work to meet these birds' year-round needs for food, water, shelter and nesting sites.
- Food: Chickadees eat a wide variety of foods, including insects, seeds, nuts and fruit. To offer them adequate food in the backyard, plant flowering trees or berry-producing shrubs that will attract insects, and minimize pesticide and insecticide use. At feeders, black oil sunflower seeds, hulled sunflower seeds, shelled peanuts, suet and peanut butter are chickadees' favorite foods, offered in tray, tube or hopper feeders. Growing sunflowers or other seed-bearing flowers is another way to offer food to these birds, and they'll happily cling to the flower heads as they feed. Peanut butter or soft suet can even be smeared directly on the bark of a tree or a fence post for foraging chickadees to enjoy.
- Water: Chickadees will visit bird baths for drinking and bathing, but because they are small birds, shallow baths are a must. If a basin is too deep, adding a smaller dish inside it or scattering river rocks or gravel along the bottom can make it a better depth for chickadees to use. Drippers or other moving water will attract chickadees with a bit of noise and splashy sparkles. Heated bird baths are essential in the winter, as these birds do not migrate and will need a source of fresh water even in the coldest weather.
- Shelter: Both deciduous and coniferous trees provide shelter for these birds, as will thick areas of shrubbery. Evergreen trees and shrubs are crucial for winter chickadee shelters, and they will readily use roosting boxes or empty bird houses to stay warm in poor, cold weather. Planning bird-friendly landscaping to create thickets or tiers with dense shelter will be more attractive to chickadees and tits.
- Nesting Sites: Chickadees are cavity-nesting birds and will easily use bird houses of the proper dimensions. While they can be creative with their house choices, the preferred size for chickadees is eight inches tall with a four- or five-inch square base and an entrance hole measuring 1 1/8 inches. Chickadee houses should be mounted on a tree, wall or pole 4-15 feet above the ground. A scattering of wood shavings or sawdust inside the house can encourage chickadees to nest, and offering nesting materials such as pet fur or small bits of string can also attract nesting chickadees. Leaving snags or dead trees intact will provide natural nesting sites for these birds, and they will reuse old woodpecker cavities as well.
More Tips for Attracting Chickadees
Chickadees are not shy and are easily attracted to bird-friendly backyards, but to make your yard even more suitable...
- Plant trees and shrubs of different sizes in mixed clumps to provide better foraging areas and denser shelter for protecting the birds.
- Provide suitable perches near feeders so chickadees can flit away to a safe spot to eat each seed in comfort, since they don't often stay at feeders for long.
- Position bird feeders and baths close to thicket-like areas to provide a safe, easy retreat for skittish chickadees and tits.
- Protect chickadees from cats by keeping pets indoors or taking steps to discourage feral cats that will be irresistibly drawn to these acrobatic birds.
- Consider pishing occasionally to attract chickadees' attention and draw them out for better views, but do not do it so often that they believe a competitor is taking over.
- If many chickadees visit your yard, add multiple feeders to allow more of them to eat at once. This will keep a dominant bird from chasing other visiting chickadees away.
With patience, not only can backyard birders learn how to attract chickadees, but they can enjoy the regular company of familiar visitors that are curious, perky and playful. It is possible to hand-feed chickadees as the birds become accustomed to your yard, and even if you simply enjoy them from afar, these are fantastic birds to appreciate at your feeders and bird houses.