Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife and increase harmony between humanity and nature.

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Friday, April 21, 2023

Just Right

Last Saturday, before I was fully awake, this Black-capped Chickadee was hard at work gathering moss from a tree in my front yard. The moss on the tree looks a bit raggedy because the crows have also been utilizing it to line their nest.

Just like a human carrying laundry, the Chickadee tries to save trips by carrying the largest load possible.

Nonetheless, it still made multiple trips to the tiny birdhouse outside our kitchen window. Last year, the Bewick's Wrens used the same birdhouse. (It is always good to clean out nest boxes, during the prior winter, so any unwanted pathogens will be gone before the next occupants move in.)

Black-capped Chickadees are not as stunningly beautiful as Hummingbirds. They are not as large and majestic as Bald Eagles. They do not look as cuddly and cute as Bushtits. They do not sing as elegantly as Song Sparrows. However, they are abundant, cheerful, and adaptable. I have heard coaches say, "The best ability is availability." When other bird species migrate south in the winter, or in spring when other species migrate north to breed, the Chickadees remain. They are year-round residents. A bird for all seasons.

For a creature so small, a single Chickadee weighs about the same as 10 shelled almonds, they can survive our wettest winters and more impressively then can even survive snow-covered winters in much of Alaska and Canada. For a curious comparison of our local sub-specie with those in Alaska: Click Here.

Black-capped Chickadees are particularly helpful to aspiring birders. to begin with, they say their own name i.e. "Chickadee, dee, dee". Also when they repeat the "dee" they can communicate with other bird species.  All About Birds says, "The more dee notes in a chickadee-dee-dee call the higher the threat." When listening to a Chickadee, who was watching a Merlin eat a smaller bird, the greatest number of "dees" I have heard in a row was seven. This is also good information for a birder who is interested in finding predatory birds or creatures.

Another fun benefit of watching Chickadees is that other species will often spend time in mixed flocks with Chickadees. Presumably, taking advantage of the flock's, mutual protection and alarm pact. Essentially, they can help the novice birder find other non-predatory species as well.

In addition to their need for food, Chickadees need safe nest sites, to raise their young, and they also need protected roost sites - especially during the cold of winter. Last Friday, the bird in this photo was sitting on a dead branch in the Arboretum, just north of Rhododendron Glen.

It, and its mate, entered the decaying knot hole multiple times to remove the soft inner wood and create space for a nest.
Afterward, usually in less than a minute, they would come shooting out of the hole with a small beakful of woody material which they carried away from the nest site. Apparently, trying to keep from advertising the nest's location.

Chickadees do not care about the species or the size of the tree. Their biggest requirement is that the wood is soft and easily removed. This nest was in a crack in the stump of a long-dead Cottonwood tree on Foster Island. By the next Spring, the stump had lost its integrity and fallen over. Kind of like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the soft dead wood has to feel "just right" to attract the Chickadees.

However, the whole tree does not have to be dead. This nest was in a living Oregon Ash, in a knot hole created when a branch died or was removed, many years before.

I suspect this birch tree was probably killed by the bronze birch borers. Luckily, the dead tree was left standing in the Arboretum and the Chickadees made good use of it last year. 

By the way, Oregon State University states that "Native birch species are the most resistant to this insect." 

On April 11th last year, this pair of  Chickadees consistently returned to the Birch tree to remove more wood and open up their nest site. 

Five days later, I found another pair doing the same type of excavation in a dead branch of a Pacific Madrone tree.

Not only did they remove the small loads of wood chips but...

...they also carried them away from the nest. This bird landed on a nearby branch and then began spreading the chips around. If you look closely, you can see two microscopically small pieces of wood flying away from the Chickadee.

Perhaps the bird grew impatient with the distribution process.

It left part of the pile on the branch and took off with a remnant still in its mouth.

The fun part of finding Chickadees' nest building is that you can return later and watch their progress as the family grows. This photo is from mid-May, 2022, and the adult bird is bringing some type of larva to the nest to feed its young.

Douglas Tallamy teaches that the larvae of butterflies and moths, i.e.caterpillars, are extremely nutritious and beneficial to the young of over 90% of terrestrial bird species in North America. With help from the National Wildlife Foundation, Doug and others have published information that tells us which genus' of native plants and trees are most beneficial to caterpillars and therefore native birds. There is more information about these special "Keystone" plants in the Going Native section below.
Of course, the Chickadees will also pick up spiders and any other tiny creatures that they happen to find.

Inside this nest hole, you can see the yellow gape, i.e. the inner bill, of the young bird that was begging to be fed.

After feeding the young the adult carries away the fecal pouch. Removing it helps to keep the nest clean. It also keeps it from falling to the ground where it might signal the existence of a nest overhead.

The previous photos were taken on June 3rd while this photo of a young bird out of the nest was taken on June 6th. (Notice the yellow coloring on the bill which will later turn black as the bird matures.)  

My hope is that these photos will inspire you to leave dead trees and branches in your yards, whenever you can safely do so. Hopefully, this week we will all be watching for nest building, followed in the future by the feeding of young Black-capped Chickadees in our yards or local parks. None of these types of observations will happen with the speed and ease of an internet search. However, if we invest our time outdoors watching nature, I am positive we will reap many healthy and inspiring rewards!

Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city and Black Birders are welcome!


Going Native:

Each of us, who breathes the air, drinks water, and eats food should be helping to protect our environment. Local efforts are most effective and sustainable. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with our local environment and native creatures. Even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. 

I hope we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors, and local businesses to respect native flora and support native wildlife at every opportunity. I have learned that our most logical approach to native trees and plants (in order of priority) should be to:

1) Learn and leave established native flora undisturbed.
2) Remove invasive species and then wait to see if native plants begin to grow without assistance. (When native plants start on their own, then these plants or trees are likely the most appropriate flora for the habitat.)
3) Scatter seeds from nearby native plants in a similar habitat.
4) If you feel you must add a new plant then select a native plant while considering how the plant fits with the specific habitat and understanding the plant's logical place in the normal succession of native plants. 


My friend Elaine Chuang shared several resources (that were new to me) from the January 2022 Washington Ornithological Society meeting. By the way, Elaine credits Vicki King for researching and supplying this information. Keystone native plants are an important new idea. Douglas Tallamy in the book "Nature's Best Hope " explains that caterpillars supply more energy to birds than any other plant eater. He also mentions that 14% of our native plants, i.e. Keystone Plants, provide food for 90% of our caterpillars. This unique subset of native plants and trees enables critical moths, butterflies, and caterpillars that in turn provide food for the great majority of birds, especially during the breeding season. 

Here are the top two relevant links.

A video all about native keystone plants for wildlife:


New! Updated resources for adding keystone native plants to your yard. 


This updated collection includes a variety of new and different books, perspectives, and interactions between plants, birds, and insects. Thank you to Vicki King for continuing to collect all of these exceptionally helpful works. Also, thank you to each of the individuals who contributed.


In the area below it is my intention to display at least one photo each week to help challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms. 

This is a flowering native plant found in Yesler Swamp this morning. What species is it?

Scroll down for the answer.


Red Elderberry: This photo was taken on April 24th, 2017. I wonder if this year's flowers will brighten up this much in the next three days or whether the rain and clouds will delay their full-fledged bloom.

This photo was taken on June 6th, 2016. It goes from flower to fruit in about six weeks. 

The fruit of this plant is appreciated by a wide variety of birds. I have seen American Crows, Band-tailed Pigeons, Pileated Woodpeckers, and even Wood Duck ducklings eating them. 


The Email Challenge:

Over the years, I have had many readers tell me that Google is no longer sending them email announcements. As of 2021,
 Google has discontinued the service.

In response, I have set up my own email list. With each post, I will manually send out an announcement. If you would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Something like:

                Larry, Please add me to your personal email list. 

My email address is:  


Thank you!


The Comment Challenge:

Another common issue is losing your input while attempting to leave a comment on this blog. Often everything functions fine, however, sometimes people are unable to make it past the 
robot-detection challenge or maybe it is the lack of a Google account. I am uncertain about the precise issue. Sadly, a person can lose their comment with no recovery recourse. 

Bottom Line: 

If you write a long comment, please, copy it before hitting enter. Then, if the comment function fails to record your information, you can send the comment directly to me using email.
My email address is:  





  1. Chickadees are my favorite. As you say- they are cheerful! Am curious to know what kind of “tiny” birdhouse you have that they like. Thanks for this post Larry!

  2. Lindsey, I do not want to disturb the birds by measuring the box so I looked at similar box dimensions (for BCCHs) that come from TheCornellLab NestWatch program. The hole is 1" in diameter (and located 1" below the top), the width is 5.5" , the depth is 4", and the height averages 9.5". I hope this helps! Larry

  3. Always enjoy your posts, Larry. What a joy to see those tiny chickadees!