The hearty chickadee is an all-weather friend

ESCANABA – With a blur of motion and a puff of gray, a chickadee alights on the bird feeder by the window. He waves his slate-colored tail in a friendly greeting. Even though it’s below zero outside, this little bird calls out his cheerful greeting chick-a-dee-dee-dee!

He is no stranger to this bird feeder. He quickly snitches a sunflower seed and sails off into the cold north wind.

The black-capped chickadee is nearly everyone’s favorite customer at their bird feeding stations. Two states, Maine and Massachusetts, have the chickadee as their official state bird.

My aunt Sandy (an avid bird watcher) and I have always thought that the black-capped chickadee would have made a better state bird for Michigan than the robin.

Robins are only summer residents but the hardy little chickadees are at home in Upper Michigan year-round. Robins are backyard birds. Chickadees are creatures of the woodlands and forests that cover most of the U.P.

A person can’t help but love the cute chickadee with its rounded head and almost neckless, plump body. They look so neat and proper with their black cap and black bib and shiny black eyes. Cream and rusty feathers decorate the underside of this bird.

The chickadees have been constant companions at our camp. I wonder how many generations of this fluffy looking friend I have watched fly back and forth from the camp to the feeder or to the trees.

All campers, hikers and hunters are familiar with the friendly chatter of chickadees. This bird communicates with the others in its flock, often calling the group in at a feeding site or warning the flock of a nearby predator.

When winters get frigid and the north wind whips, it’s hard to believe that the gentle little chickadee can survive out there. Weighing in at less than one-half an ounce, this bird must eat a lot of seeds, dormant insects and carrion just to keep from freezing. This is when bird feeders really help their survival rate. Chickadees can lose 10 percent of their body weight during a cold winter night.

Happy-go-lucky in the summer months, chickadees mate for life. Nothing is cuter than half-grown chickadee chicks, but chances are you’ll seldom see them because they are cavity nesters. They hatch their eggs inside holes in rotting trees. But if you’re fortunate enough to get them nesting in your birdhouse, you may get a peek at their young ones.

The black-capped chickadees are inquisitive little guys that get quite used to human activity. So if this brave little bird can enjoy Michigan’s winters, then we can, too.

Put on your skis, skates or snowshoes, dress fluffy and warm like a chickadee, and get outside in the winter sunshine. But don’t forget to put out some sunflower seeds, peanuts or suet for our feathered friends of winter.

Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong north Escanaba resident. Her folksy columns appear weekly in Lifestyles.