How Does the Boreal Chickadee Survive Arctic Winters?

With the right preparation, cold temps are tolerable.

This story is brought to you by BirdNote, a show that airs daily on public radio stations nationwide.

At the edge of the Arctic lies the vast boreal forest. In summer, it’s home to legions of nesting birds, from warblers to loons. In early autumn, nearly all these birds depart for warmer points south. By November this dark land of spruce and firs is a cold, forbidding place. 

Yet one remarkable songbird stays behind: the Boreal Chickadee. This tiny, dark-capped fluff-ball lives here year-round. How do Boreal Chickadees survive the harsh winter?

First, during summer, they cache a great deal of food, both insects and seeds. Moths and beetles and even aphids are stashed away in bark crevices, and under the rough edges of lichens. The chickadees also store a lot of spruce seeds. Then in fall, the birds put on fresh, heavier plumage. And their feathers are more dense than most birds’, creating a comfy down parka for the chickadee. And most impressive, the chickadees adapt to deep cold by lowering their body temperature at night from 108 degrees Farenheit to just 85 degrees. In this way, the birds conserve their stores of insulating fat.

So hats off to the Boreal Chickadee, a truly rugged bird—even if it weighs only 1/3 of an ounce. 

To dowload this podcast, go to birdnote.org.

Sounds of the birds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Boreal Chickadee (unedited) recorded by Gerrit Vyn; Boreal Chickadee 77205 by C.A.Marantz; wail of the Common Loon 107963 by S.R. Pantle.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson

Written by Bob Sundstrom

© 2015 Tune In to Nature.org     November 2013/2015     Narrator: Mary McCann


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