Gardening for Birds: Planting for Black-capped Chickadees


Photo by Sahil Singh via Pexels

Author: Julianne Labreche, Master Gardeners of Ottawa-Carleton; published with permission

Frequent visitors to my backyard garden are the curious little black-capped chickadees. They are easily recognizable with their black cap and bib, white cheeks, and warm buff-tone flanks and sides. Usually they visit my garden in small flocks for safety. Sometimes they arrive with other bird species too, such as titmice and nuthatches. Chickadees are quick to grab seed from my bird feeder and retreat back to the shelter of my old cedar hedge for protection from predators. Often, they cache the seeds in bark crevices to eat later.

Black-capped Chickadees Don’t Migrate

There are seven species of chickadees in North America. In Ottawa, the black-capped chickadee with its familiar call, chick-a-dee-dee-dee, is a common sight. Like other wild birds, chickadees depend on native plants for survival. Native plants provide these birds with nesting spaces and food, principally seeds. These plants are also habitat for juicy insects and food for young chickadees during the nesting season. Baby birds depend on these insects, which have coevolved with native plants and provide them with soft, easily digestible food.

In nature, black-capped chickadees live in deciduous and mixed forests in many parts of Canada and the northern parts of the United States. They are non-migratory birds that remain here during the cold winter months.

Gardeners can help native birds by planting native plants, especially trees. To attract black-capped chickadees to your garden, consider growing the native plants listed. These keystone plants are critical to the food web because they support insects, including caterpillars, required by birds in their diet.

Trees which Attract Chickadees

Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus)

The Eastern White Pine, this tall, evergreen tree provides many benefits for chickadees, including seed from its cones. It grows about 30 metres tall. It prefers full sun but will grow in partial shade. This native tree, Ontario’s emblem, will grow in a variety of soil conditions, including clay, loam, sand, and organic soil.

Paper birch (Betula papyrifera)

This medium-sized tree grows about 25 metres in height. It requires full sun and grows in many kinds of soil, including clay, loam, and sandy soil, but prefers a well-drained soil.

Black spruce (Picea mariana)

This tree grows about 20 metres high in sun or partial shade. It prefers well-drained soil but will grow in dry or moist conditions too. This tree benefits chickadees during many stages of its growth, including after it dies. A dead tree, called ‘snag’, provides nesting spaces in its cavities as well as habitat for a variety of insects.

In addition, consider growing:

New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novaeangliae)

The New England Aster is a lovely fall-blooming flower that is easy to grow. A tall native herb, it prefers full sun. It grows best in moist, slightly acidic soil but is tough and tolerates many soil conditions. Chickadees are attracted to insects that visit this plant in the fall. During the winter, adult birds consume its seed heads.

Tip: What to with an Injured Bird

Ever wonder what to do if you find an injured, ill, or orphaned bird? Contact the Ottawa Valley Wild Bird Care Centre, whose staff and volunteers work to rehabilitate and release injured birds back into the wild. Check out the website for further information:

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