Frame To Frame – Bob and Jean

Black-Capped Chickadees excavate a nest in Thickson’s Woods

Black-Capped Chickadees excavate a nest in Thickson’s Woods

Black-capped chickadee on tree beside roosting holes - thicksons woods

You know that spring has sprung when you see birds building their nests.  One spring, at Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve in Whitby, Ontario, a pair of Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapilla) worked industriously to hollow out a cavity in a dead tree trunk, preparing to lay their eggs.

Pine Tree that Great Horned Owl was sitting in - Thickson's Woods - Whitby - Ontario

Thickson’s Woods is  a mixed forest where many species of birds and animals live.  It is ideally situated next to a wetland and meadows, so birds and animals find it very attractive.

Chickadee excavated nest entrance - thicksons woods - whitby

A dead tree stands alongside one of the many trails through the woods, and Bob and I could see that recent activity had taken place there.  A fresh hole was pecked into the side of the snag.

tree in thicksons woods with various chickadee holes - whitby - ontario

In fact, it appeared as though some bird had attempted to make a hole at three different locations on the side of the dead tree before settling on the spot nearest the top.

Black-capped chickadee sits on limb - thicksons woods

As Bob and I watched, the owner of the tree cavity came and landed on a nearby twig.  Black-capped Chickadees usually excavate a cavity in a soft decaying stump, taking turns, although normally, the nest hole would be a bit lower than this one.

Black-capped chickadee begins to excavates hole - thicksons woods

It was so interesting to watch the little fellow enter into the almost perfectly round nest hole,

Black-capped chickadee excavating deep in hole - thicksons woods

disappearing from sight within its shadowed interior.

Black-capped chickadee with peak full of woodchips - thicksons woods

Over and over again, each of the black-cappedchickadees emerged from the nest hole with its beak full of shredded wood.   When the nesting site is  ready, the birds will use moss or bark fibers to construct the base of the nest, and soft materials such as  hair and feathers to line it.

In our video,  you will see chickadees excavating a nest cavity.

downy woodpecker checks out black-capped chickadee tree - thickson woods

A Downy Woodpecker decided to make the same tree trunk its foraging grounds, which caused a temporary halt in the chickadees’ endeavours.

downy woodpecker sits on tree near black-capped chickadee tree - thickson woods

The softer wood of the now-dead tree is apt to harbour a variety of insects for the woodpecker to eat, in addition to being easier to penetrate with its beak.  Perhaps that is why the chickadees selected this particular trunk, too.

Black-capped chickadee sits on tree beside excated hole - thicksons woods

Within moments, the black-capped chickadees were right back at it, in no way deterred by bird watchers from whom the chickadees often hand feed.

Black-capped chickadee excavates hole - thicksons woods

Black-capped chickadee with full peak of woodchips - thicksons woods

With its beak full of wood fibers, each chickadee flew away, carrying their load to some unknown destination.  Some shreds often escaped their clamped beak and fell to the ground at my feet.

woodchips dropped by black-capped chickadee on ground - thicksons woods

A black-capped chickadee usually lays between 6-8 eggs.  What dedication it requires to hollow out a hole large enough to hold them when each effort results in such incremental progress.

Black-capped chickadee sits on tree beside roosting holes - thicksons woods

The chickadees worked doggedly for the whole afternoon at Thickson’s Woods, but even we could see progress.  By the time we left for home, each chickadee almost totally disappeared from view within the nest cavity.  It wouldn’t be long before they would be laying their eggs.

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One comment

  • Downy woodpeckers are the smallest woodpecker in North America. Like the chickadees, they both like trees infected with fungus, for their soft and pliable wood. The downy woodpecker will search for insects by stripping the bark, while the chickadee will cache seeds in the trunk. But both will not pass up a feeder, which has both suet and seeds in it.