Birds of Jackson Hole

A chickadee in winter - Jackson Hole Wildlife

A respectful “hats off” to the multitude of birds and animals that stick it out in frigid Jackson Hole for our long, long winters. And some of Grand Teton National Park’s heartiest winter residents are also the cutest. The chickadee has stick-to-it-iveness and cuteness in spades!

Here in Jackson Hole we have two varieties of chickadee: we enjoy seeing both Black-Capped and Mountain Chickadees on our forest ski trails, by our suburban feeders, and along the Snake River.

During the summer months it’s easy to hear the chickadee’s distinctive call, a two-tone whistle that sounds a bit like “fee bee.” It is easy to imitate, even for a novice whistler like myself, and I used the “fee bee” whistle for years to call the kids in from the yard, or locate them in a crowded store.

Black-Capped Chickadee

Mike Y., who guided for Barker-Ewing all through 70s and 80s, used the “fee bee” to communicate with his young daughter, too. One day, while she sat patiently waiting for daddy to return to the boathouse, a flock of chickadees flew overhead with a chorus of “fee bee” whistles. That little girl jumped up and ran off down the driveway, yelling “Daddy, where are you?” Poor thing: her daddy was still an hour away on the river! It took quite a bit of explaining when we brought her back to the boathouse: she thought that “fee bee” was her dad’s distinctive call, and didn’t realize that he had appropriated it from a chickadee.

Some fun facts about chickadees:

  • The chickadee is named for it’s classic winter call: “chickadee-dee.”  These birds warn each other of impending danger by adding “dees” to their normal call.
  • Black-capped chickadees don’t wear caps; the feathers on their heads are black. The average chickadee is 5” long with a 7” wingspan, and weighs less than half an ounce.
  • Their summer diet is mostly insects. They add seeds and berries during the winter, which they cache in thousands of different locations – remembering them all.
  • During the coldest winter months, the chickadee eats an amount of food equal to 10-15% of its body weight. During the night, the little bird burns it all just to keep warm. That’s like a 150-pound person eating a 15-pound turkey every day. How can those little guys fly? Can you imagine going on a run after eating 15 pounds?

If you have any chickadee stories, be sure to share them with friends and family. Our personal observations of animals, plants, and the cycle of the seasons help us form powerful connections with the natural world. Join us on the Snake River this summer to collect observations, make lasting memories, and witness the many small miracles that happen every day in this high mountain valley we call home.

Eric Barker

Leave a Comment