In the four years I’ve been helping to manage the park’s nestbox trails and 50+ nestboxes, we haven’t had a successful Carolina Chickadee nest — until now. Tree Swallows, Eastern Bluebirds and House Wrens are our most common nestbox users. The few nesting attempts by Carolina Chickadees in recent years have been thwarted at the nest-building stage, usually by House Wren takeovers.
This year we replaced a long-forgotten nestbox off a wooded edge of the nature center’s parking lot. Its last known occupant was a flying squirrel.
In late April, the nestbox contained the distinctive sign of a Chickadee nest — a base made of moss.
April 26: Deep base of moss
The most common Chickadee in Maryland’s Piedmont is the Carolina Chickadee. I admit to difficulty distinguishing a Carolina Chickadee from a Black-capped Chickadee. The two are known to hybridize in the region, so I guess the difference isn’t too clear or too important to them either.
The nest continued to progress with the addition of soft material to form a cup.
May 1: Soft nesting material added
This is when things have fallen apart with recent Chickadee attempts, so when four eggs appeared we were thrilled. And took steps to protect the nest by adding a wren guard — a simple sheet of plastic parallel to the front of the box — to hide the opening from avian predators. With eggs in the nest, the Chickadee adults were committed to the nest but we watched to confirm that they would maneuver around the guard. On the third try, the female did just that and returned to the nest.
May 8: Four Carolina Chickadee eggs
After the normal 11-14 days of incubation, all four eggs hatched and nestling growth proceeded.
May 20: Four one-to-two day old Carolina Chickadee hatchlings
May 24: Five day old Carolina Chickadees with feather tracks emerging
May 29: Ten day old Chickadees, almost fully feathered, but no black caps yet
The wren guard was removed a few days before the projected fledge date so fledgling exit wouldn’t be impeded. Nesting extended longer than the typical 13 to 17 days, likely due to heavy rains and unseasonable cold. Lots of watching and waiting. The Chickadee parents fed the young at regular intervals and fussed noisily at the nestbox monitor and oblivious park visitors. There were no signs of the parents coaxing the young to fledge, so all appeared normal. No photos of nestlings from the final checks; just quick peeks to prevent early fledging.
This is what a successful Carolina Chickadee nest looks like.
June 6: Carolina Chickadee nest within hours of four fledglings leaving nest
June 6: Side view of the depth of the nest’s moss base
As always, photos were taken in the course of normal nestbox monitoring without flash.
To learn about nestbox design from an expert, visit this site’s Nestbox Blueprint page.