What Do Chickadees Eat?

Written by August Buck
Published: December 25, 2021
Image Credit Wade Lamb/Shutterstock.com
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Small and striking in their coloring, chickadees are found throughout backyards in the United States. You have no doubt seen a chickadee in a park, natural area, or even at your own bird feeder!

What do chickadees eat? Chickadees eat insects, seeds, fruit, and nuts. They have been known to not be very picky in what they eat, and this leads them to have a varied diet.

But how much can this tiny bird actually eat? And do the seasons affect what food sources the chickadee can eat from? Let’s learn more about this beauty now.

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What Does a Chickadee Eat?

What Do Chickadees Eat?
Chickadees eat insects, seeds, fruit, and nuts.

Wade Lamb/Shutterstock.com

A chickadee eats insects, invertebrates, fruits, berries, nuts, and more. They are omnivores, which means they eat both plant material and animal matter. This primarily means insects, though chickadees have eaten carrion before as well.

It seems as though chickadees are very opportunistic eaters in the wild, though they will of course flock to your bird feeder first. They love birdseed and nuts, seeking them out in flocks of other chickadees.

According to The Wilson Bulletin, chickadees have even been observed eating nonfood items such as ash from local campgrounds. They seem to be able to sense when they are not receiving enough nutrition in their diet.

Let’s go over a complete list of what chickadees love to eat. 

A Complete List of 14 Foods Chickadees Eat

Chickadees have been known to eat the following foods:

  • Birdseed
  • Bugs
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Tree nuts
  • Spiders
  • Carrion
  • Larvae
  • Peanut butter
  • Suet
  • Invertebrates
  • Berries
  • Caterpillars
  • Slugs
  • Cracked corn

According to The Journal of Wildlife Management, some chickadees have been known to get a little over 20% of their daily food intake from bird feeders. These are the types of feeders that you have in your backyard or you may see in local parks. 

However, chickadees love to find bugs and foragables in their natural and wild environments. They have been known to consume just about any type of bug or insect, and may even take the opportunity to eat things other than that.

What Do Chickadees Eat?
Some chickadees have been known to get a little over 20% of their daily food intake from bird feeders.

iStock.com/lgunderson

How Much Does a Chickadee Eat?

A chickadee eats at least ¼ of its body weight in food every single day. These smaller birds have such a fast metabolism that they need to be eating constantly. Sometimes it takes them as little as 45 minutes to digest a meal. 

The chickadee needs at least 10kcals of energy per day to survive. That may not sound like very much to humans, but it is a great deal when you consider that these birds don’t weigh more than 15 grams on average! 

A chickadee can eat quite a lot of food from a bird feeder and, given the natural hoarding nature of these birds, they can carry away hundreds and even thousands of seeds from your feeder to store for the winter. But more on that later. 

Chickadees usually have a short and powerful beak that they use to crack open seeds and nuts. However, chickadees often fall victim to avian keratin deficiency issues. This deficiency causes their once short beaks to grow elongated and off center, and can sometimes affect a chickadee’s food intake.

Keratin deficiencies aren’t the only thing that a chickadee faces. Let’s take a look at some of the main predators for chickadees everywhere. 

What Eats Chickadees? Their Main Predators

What Do Chickadees Eat?
A chickadee eats at least ¼ of its body weight in food every single day.

Freebilly Photography/Shutterstock.com

Chickadees have many predators in the wild, including:

Chickadees don’t have very many defense mechanisms, besides their keen eyes and ears. Whenever they sense predators, they go still and silent, flicking their heads back and forth rapidly to spot any nearby predators.

If they happen to see a threat, chickadees give off a very unique call that sounds exactly like their name. They are very social birds, and the entire flock will often join in on this call so that they can alert every bird at the same time.

However, many chickadees can’t do anything to stop a predator should it insist. Eggs are often consumed by mammals that can climb trees, and adults are eaten by cats or bird-eating hawks. There isn’t much that such a small bird can do out there in the wild!

What Do Chickadees Eat in Winter?

A chickadee eats the same things in winter, but it has a unique hoarding process during this time. According to the Scandinavian Journal of Ornithology, chickadees deposit parcels of food in many different hiding spaces so that they have ample food for the winter months.

Chickadees will bring home an abundance of seeds, bugs, and nuts in order to store it away. This is no doubt because food supplies decrease in winter, whether a chickadee is used to wild foraging or a local bird feeder.

They are capable of bundling up what they gather, depositing their food in a communal tree or hidden location that the rest of the flock knows about. Chickadees have a unique memory when it comes to food locations.

These small birds are capable of rewriting what they know- literally. They can get rid of old memories in favor of the new, which may be how they are able to remember all of their food storage locations for an entire season.

While the idea of birds having memory may not sound very impressive, chickadees are a small and mighty bird. Their winter food storage allows an entire flock to eat throughout cold seasons, and they can remember multiple locations as well!

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About the Author

I am a non-binary freelance writer working full-time in Oregon. Graduating Southern Oregon University with a BFA in Theatre and a specialization in creative writing, I have an invested interest in a variety of topics, particularly Pacific Northwest history. When I'm not writing personally or professionally, you can find me camping along the Oregon coast with my high school sweetheart and Chihuahua mix, or in my home kitchen, perfecting recipes in a gleaming cast iron skillet.

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