Black-capped Chickadees

Black-capped chickadees are a favorite bird of Americans and readily visit feeders and suet blocks.

I have to admit that my attempts to attract birds to my backyard have met with limited success. Oh sure, we have great flocks of house finches and house sparrows, who doesn’t? And starlings, magpies and collared doves seem to increase yearly. However, the “cool” birds are rare indeed. We’ll get occasional visiting royalty but not like what so many others have.

This winter though, a pair of black-capped chickadees has graced our yard, quickly earning their reputation as one of America’s favorite backyard birds. We still don’t see them every day, partly because we are often at work when they like to breakfast at our suet feeders or race off with a few sunflower seeds.

Black-capped chickadees are  backyard champions for a number of reasons. They are easy to recognize and, with the apparent exception of my yard, are easy to attract with bird feeders. Further, they are curious and tolerant of humans, even to the point of taking food by hand after a bit of training.

Beyond that, black-capped chickadees are often described as “cute”. And indeed they are. They are sort of like human babies in the sense that they have an oversized head on a tiny body. The look continues with a black cap that extends to just below the eye, black bib and charming white cheeks. Pink-orange blush on their sides completes the look.

Chickadees may readily come to bird feeders, but their visits are short. They will peck at the suet for a few seconds and then they are off to the security of a nearby tree. Soon they are back to grab a seed from the feeder and off they go again, to enjoy the meal elsewhere or to hide it for later. Black-capped chickadees may stash seeds all around the yard and have been shown to remember up to 1000 locations.

One of the most fascinating facts about black-capped chickadees is that every autumn they essentially experience a memory wipe. Some brain neurons containing old information die, and are replaced with new ones ready to store new data. According to Cornell University, “this allows them to adapt to changes in their social flocks and environment even with their tiny brains.”

The mountain chickadee is likely the black-capped chickadee’s closest relative, but the black-capped and Carolina chickadees are near twins in looks. In my file I have photographs of what I assume to be Carolina chickadees as the images were captured in Knoxville, Tennessee, within the range of the Carolina but not the black-capped chickadee. However, I can’t consistently distinguish them from black-capped chickadees from Idaho.

There is enough individual variation that even experts, which I am certainly not, often resort to geography to determine which species they are looking at. Where the two ranges overlap though, even experts may be stymied as the two species readily hybridize.

Since black-capped chickadees are very social and prefer to fly in flocks, I am hopeful that more will join the two that have found our feeders.

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

TAX DAY is coming! Here is a chance to do something good with a bit of your tax return and make the day less painful.

Donate part of your tax return to support wildlife in Idaho!

On the second page of the Idaho Individual Tax form 40 you have the opportunity to donate to the “Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund”.

Check-off this box on your next return or ask your tax preparer to mark the Nongame check-off on your behalf. You can donate any amount you wish, it all helps to support the wildlife you love.

If you are not from Idaho, check with your own state wildlife agency about how you can help. Many states have a similar program.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho