Feeding Chickadees in Ottawa

Feeding chickadees can be a lot of fun and it’s a great activity to do with kids. Here are four places in the Ottawa area where you can feed black-capped chickadees. I’ve also included some information about these lovable little birds that will help you interpret their behaviour while you’re out spending time with them.

Where to Feed Chickadees in Ottawa

There are three trails in the Stony Swamp area where I’ve fed chickadees: Jack Pine Trail, Sarsaparilla Trail, and Shirley’s Bay Trail. I’ve also seen people feeding them in Mer Bleue, on the other side of town. For detailed directions, check out this Google map I created with all the locations marked. Here’s a small description of each trail so you’ll know what to expect:

Jack Pine Trail (Moodie Drive)

By far the easiest place to feed chickadees is on Jack Pine Trail. This is especially true in the wintertime when the trail is full of bird feeders. Looking for a bird feeder is an easy way to find chickadees. Even though there is another food source available, some birds will still come to you.

Jack Pine Trail is made up of three interconnecting loops. Together, these loops make up 4.7 kilometres of trails. This is a great area to see all kinds of birds! I’ve seen mourning doves, chickadees, nuthatches, blue jays, cardinals, woodpeckers, wild turkeys, and others in this area.

Sarsaparilla Trail (Old Richmond Road)

Sarsaparilla Trail is universally accessible. Lots of young families visit on the weekends because it’s easy to push a stroller. It’s also a short walk, just under a kilometre and there are tons of chickadees. Check out the boardwalk that leads to a beaver pond where you can see beaver, ducks, geese, frogs, and snakes. It’s also a popular location to spot white-tailed deer.

Shirleys Bay (Shirley Boulevard)

The chickadees at Shirley’s Bay are shyer and will require more time and patience. If you have children with you, I recommend the other locations over this one. That said, Shirley’s Bay is a great place to hike. The trail loop is 4 kilometres and takes you along the Ottawa River, through abandoned fields, and the forest. It’s a great place to spot wildflowers in the spring and monarch butterflies in the summer.

In the warmer months, you’re likely to encounter people mountain biking, fishing, swimming, and kayaking in this area. I’ve written about the trail in more detail here.

A woman is feeding chickadees in Ottawa. There are two birds flying around her hand.

Beaver Trail, Chipmunk Trail, and Lime Kiln Trail

It’s likely that the chickadees in other parts of Stony Swamp are also well-adapted to humans. Though I’ve never tried it myself, I’ve heard of people feeding them on Beaver Trail, Chipmunk Trail, and the Lime Kiln Trail.

Mer Bleue (Ridge Road)

On the other side of town, Mer Bleue is another location to feed chickadees. You’re most likely to see the birds in the picnic area. Mer Bleue is home to a small 1 kilometre trail loop and a larger 7 kilometre loop. The larger loop is popular among cross-country skiers and snowshoers.

Personally, I love the shorter Mer Bleue Bog Trail. It’s mostly boardwalk and takes you over a bog. There are signs along the boardwalk telling you about the ecosystem. In the fall, the tamarack trees turn bright yellow. Tamarack trees are the only conifers in Ontario to do this and it’s stunning.

Trail Tips

In mid-spring and summer, the biting insects can be bad on these trails. If you are visiting during these times, bring bug spray and cover up. It’s rare to come across them, but I’ve also found a few ticks on me. Stick to the trails, cover up, and check yourself after hikes during tick season. Learn more about how to protect yourself here.

Many of these trails get muddy and wet in the spring and after rainfall. Pack your boots! There’s one section on Shirleys Bay loop that always floods and is impassable in early spring.

My last tip is to bring binoculars and a bird identification book. You’ll see all kinds of birds in these areas! If you are going with kids check out this nature journal where they can write down their observations.

Tips for Feeding the Birds

Black-capped chickadees love sunflower seeds. You can purchase them at most grocery and bulk stores. Avoid seeds with added salt or flavouring.

My best advice to find chickadees is to walk along a trail until you hear or see the birds. Once you spot them, stand still and extend your hand with the birdseed. It won’t take long until one of them notices you and the rest follow. The key is to be patient and still. The birds at these locations are used to being fed.

Sometimes children are nervous about having birds land on them, let them place seeds on the ground and watch from a distance. This helps them get used to the birds and they won’t cause the birds undue stress.

There’s a cute picture book called “That Chickadee Feeling” written by Frank Glew. It’s about the feeling children get when chickadees land on them and it teaches them all about the birds. This could be a great way to introduce kids to chickadees and get them excited about feeding them.

Chickadee Facts

Chickadees are curious and brave little songbirds, at least that’s how I’d describe them. In the Stony Swamp area, they have developed a close relationship with humans because they are commonly fed.

Chickadee Calls

Chickadees have a number of different calls. Two that you are sure to hear while feeding them are the “chicka-dee-dee” call and their gargle call.

Their most familiar call, “chicka-dee-dee,” is an alarm call. The greater the perceived danger, the more “dees” are added to the end of the call.

Their “gargle” call is used to scare off others and establish territory. If you ever feed the chickadees you’ll definitely hear this call as they ‘argue’ over who gets the food. Interestingly, this is a learned call. If a chickadee grows up isolated from other chickadees they will never learn it.

You might also hear the “fee bee” song. Males use it as a mating call, to establish territory, and to scare off other males. It’s most often heard in late winter and early spring.

Chickadees have many more calls! Learn about these and others from this video by Lesley the Bird Nerd.

Black-capped chickadee facts from feeding chickadees in Ottawa

Finding Food

Chickadees see the world much different than us! They have 4 colour receptors in their eyes while we have 3. The additional colour receptor allows them to see ultraviolet light. This helps them better locate food by seeing past insect camouflage.

Surviving Winter

Chickadees are non-migratory birds. They are able to survive frigid winter temperatures. There are a few ways they do this: by lowering their body temperatures at night (nocturnal hypothermia), shivering to help keep warm, changing their daily routines, and eating stored foods.

Chickadees are scatter hoarders, meaning they hoard food items in different places. They can hide hundreds of items in a day! In the wintertime, when food sources are scarce, this hoarded food is a lifesaver and helps reduce the amount of time chickadees are out foraging in the cold. Somehow these birds can remember thousands of hidden food spots!

Chickadees are also great at finding larvae in the bark of trees to chow on during winter months.

Winter Flocks

Chickadees travel in winter flocks with other species of birds. In Ottawa, I’ve seen them with nuthatches, downy-woodpeckers, and cardinals. According to Birds and Blooms, a mixed flock offers chickadees protection. There are more eyes and ears to look out for predators.

If you are feeding chickadees you are likely to come across these other birds too! I almost always get nuthatches feeding from my hand as well.

While not part of the winter flock, you’ll likely see blue jays tagging along where chickadees are being fed. Being much bigger birds, they will bully the chickadees away from feeders and fallen seeds. They aren’t brave enough to approach humans though, so chickadees seem to appreciate feeding from your hand when blue jays are around.

When feeding chickadees in Ottawa you are likely to come across blue jays and nuthatches as well (pictured here).
If you’re lucky, you might also see blue jays and nuthatches.

Feeding Chickadees in the Winter

I recommend feeding chickadees in the wintertime as they are already being fed on some of the trails and food is harder to come by in the cold months. Some people oppose bird feeding and they have some good reasons. I’ve written a post about the potential benefits and drawbacks of feeding birds. Nature Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Federation has tips and best practices for feeding birds at feeders.

While bird feeding is widely accepted in Canada, feeding other wildlife is not and can actually cause harm. Please, do not feed other wildlife.

If you use this advice to feed the chickadees, let me know how it goes in the comments below. You can also tag me on Instagram (@jenna.amirault) in any pictures you take.

Other Posts You May Enjoy

Nuthatches: The Birds that Walk Upside Down

Hiking in Stony Swamp, Ottawa

Shirleys Bay Loop, Ottawa

Why do Birds Sing in the Early Morning?

Ottawa’s Beaver and Chipmunk Trails

References

Lesley the Bird Nerd. “8 Black-Capped Chickadee Calls Explained.” YouTube.

Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman. “Decoding Mixed Winter Flock Behaviour.” Birds and Blooms.

Sarah Ludlow. “How Birds Survive the Winter.” Nature Conservancy Canada.

Cynthia Berger. “True Colour: How Birds See the World.” The National Wildlife Federation.

Herb Wilson. “Hoarding Seeds.” Maine Birds.

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