What Do Chickadees Eat? (In the Wild and At Bird Feeders)

Ever wonder what chickadees eat in the wild? Or what you should feed them to entice them to your bird feeders?

These sweet little birds have a fairly wide-ranging diet, from seeds and insects to carrion. As opportunistic eaters, their diets are often determined by what they can find in their environment.  

But they also have somewhat of a sweet tooth, making fruits quite appealing to them. 

Without further ado, let’s explore what chickadees eat in winter, in the summer, and the best foods for them.

What Do Chickadees Eat?

When it comes to the diet of chickadees, these small birds are quite versatile in their food choices. 

Their diet mainly depends on their environment and what’s accessible to them, whether they’re flitting about a coniferous forest or sampling from a backyard bird feeder.

Here’s a visual checklist of food sources chickadees are known to indulge in:

types of foods chickadees eat

Seeds and insects make up a significant portion of their meals, but they’re known to snack on small amounts of animal flesh when available. 

In the warmer months, chickadees love to eat various insects in different stages of life, such as eggs, caterpillars, and fully grown insects. They also enjoy munching on slugs and spiders. 

Despite the colder temperatures in winter, chickadees can still find insects to satisfy their cravings.

As a bird enthusiast, you might want to invite chickadees to your garden by offering them some of their favorite snacks at bird feeders. Chickadees are especially fond of eating suet and peanut butter that you provide. 

You might notice that they don’t linger at the feeder for long because chickadees have a habit of storing food and consuming it later.

When setting up bird feeders for chickadees, consider including the following food items to attract them:

  • Black oil sunflower seeds
  • Hulled sunflower seeds
  • Safflower seeds
  • Peanuts and other nuts
  • Suet or no-melt suets

Remember to keep your bird feeders clean and well-stocked to ensure that chickadees have a reliable source of nourishment. 

If you can offer their favorite foods in a bird-friendly environment, these cheerful birds will gladly frequent your backyard.

Read Next: How to Attract Chickadees

What Do Chickadees Eat in the Wild?

In the wild, their diet is mostly made up of seeds, berries, fruits, insects, and carrion

During spring and summer, chickadees enjoy feasting on a wide variety of insects, including caterpillars, flies, moths, and spiders. 

These tiny birds are swift flyers, allowing them to catch insects on the wing or by foraging amongst leaves and branches. 

You may also observe chickadees going after slugs and snails, as these creatures provide a rich source of nourishment.

Chickadees are considered to be omnivorous, which means they eat both plant and animal matter. In addition to insects, they consume their fair share of seeds and berries when available. 

Though not a main part of their diet, chickadees may occasionally feed on small amounts of animal flesh and carrion.

In the winter months, these resourceful birds might be found foraging for food in gardens, picking at dead leaves and branches to uncover hidden insects or even small mice. 

They are also known to store food in the crevices of tree bark to ensure they have ample provisions during harsh weather conditions.

What Kind of Seeds Do Chickadees Eat?

When it comes to seeds, chickadees are quite flexible in their diet. They enjoy various types of seeds from bird feeders and those found in the wild. Some popular seeds that chickadees eat are:

  • Hulled sunflower seeds
  • Black oil sunflower seeds
  • Striped sunflower seeds
  • Nyjer seeds
  • Safflower seeds

Sunflower seeds are a favorite food for chickadees. They particularly enjoy black oil sunflower seeds due to their high-fat content and easy-to-crack shells. 

Aside from black oil sunflower seeds, they will also eat striped sunflower seeds found in mixed seed blends or provided specifically for them in feeders.

In addition, nyjer seeds are another nutritious option for the chickadee diet. 

These small, black seeds are highly appealing to chickadees as they are rich in oil and easy for them to consume. 

You can offer nyjer seeds in specially designed feeders or mix them with other seeds in a hopper or tube feeder.

When foraging for food in the wild, chickadees will search for seeds from native plants, trees, and grasses to supplement their diet. 

This variety not only adds to the nutritious value but also helps chickadees adapt to changes in seed availability throughout the year.

What Do Chickadees Eat in Winter?

During the winter months, when food sources become scarce, chickadees have to rely on whatever is available to meet their nutritional needs. 

As a result, their diet shifts from primarily insects and eggs in the warmer seasons to a variety of nuts, seeds, and even suet.

One of the staples in a chickadee’s winter diet are black oil sunflower seeds. These seeds are highly nutritious and provide essential fats that help maintain their high metabolic rates. 

Chickadees also favor hulled sunflower seeds because they are easier to eat, especially during the harsh winter months when energy conservation is essential.

Nuts also provide a good source of protein and fats needed for them to stay warm and survive the frigid temperatures. 

Providing a mix of nuts, such as peanuts and tree nuts, along with the sunflower seeds in your bird feeder will give them a wide array of options in meeting their nutritional requirements.

Suet is another important food item in a chickadee’s diet during the winter. 

Suet is the fatty tissue found around animals’ kidneys, and when it is processed and rendered into cakes, it provides chickadees with high-energy calories and warmth. 

You can put out suet blocks or use specially designed suet feeders, which will certainly attract these energetic little birds to your yard.

What Do Chickadees Eat in the Summertime?

During the summertime, chickadees have a diverse diet that primarily consists of insects, fruit berries, and even eggs. 

These tiny birds are active foragers, always on the lookout for their next meal. They take advantage of the abundance of food available in the warmer months, ensuring they get enough nutrients and energy to thrive.

Insects make up a significant part of their diet in the summertime. You’ll find chickadees feasting on various insects, from eggs and caterpillars to fully grown adults. 

They have a special fondness for spiders and slugs, making them a natural pest control agent for your garden.

In addition to insects, fruit berries are a favorite meal for chickadees during the summer. These small birds enjoy plucking ripe berries straight from the bushes, and they’re not picky about which types they eat. 

They’ll consume a wide assortment of berries, such as raspberries, blackberries, and currants, that are native to their habitat.

Chickadees are also opportunistic feeders, meaning they won’t shy away from consuming eggs if they come across them. 

If a chickadee finds a nest with accessible eggs from insects or other small birds, it will take the chance to devour these protein-packed treats.

What Do Chickadees Feed Their Babies?

As a bird lover, you might be curious about what chickadees feed their young. 

Baby chickadees are mainly fed by their parents, who catch a range of insects and other small creatures to provide the necessary nutrition for their growing offspring.

In particular, chickadees are known to frequently feed their babies caterpillars and spiders. 

Caterpillars seem to be a favorite food for baby chickadees, with spiders coming in as a close second choice. 

Besides these bugs, parents also gather various other insects like worms and flies to diversify their young ones’ diet. 

These protein-rich insects are essential in the early developmental stages of baby chickadees, aiding their growth and ensuring good health.

As the baby chickadees grow and start to fledge, they will gradually learn to forage and collect food on their own. 

In addition to insects, their diet expands to include seeds and nuts, which become an important part of their diet as they develop into adult chickadees. 

This incorporation of seeds and nuts helps supplement their nutritional needs, providing a balanced diet suitable for a grown chickadee.

What Is the Best Food for Chickadees?

Providing the right foods can not only help attract chickadees to your bird feeding stations, but also ensure these chipper little birds thrive. 

Outside of their natural diet of insects, seeds, berries, and small bits of animal flesh, the best foods for chickadees include:

  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Cherries
  • Mealworms
  • Hulled sunflower seeds
  • Black oil sunflower seeds
  • Safflower seeds
  • Peanuts
  • Peanut butter
  • Suet

One fantastic option is peanut butter. Chickadees love this soft and easy-to-eat option, which is also packed with protein and fat. 

You can spread it on a tree trunk, add it to a special feeder, or even mix it with seeds to make a simple, homemade bird treat.

Berry bushes also attract these birds all year round; they particularly relish berries such as blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries. 

If you want to stock your bird feeder, you can also provide store-bought berries for an added treat.

Another beneficial food choice for chickadees is mealworms. These insects contain high amounts of protein, which is particularly vital during the breeding and nesting seasons. 

You can offer them live or dried mealworms to provide a healthy, protein-rich snack.

A well-rounded chickadee diet also includes seeds. These birds have a preference for black oil sunflower seeds and hulled sunflower seeds

Additionally, shelled peanuts provide a nutritious option for chickadees due to their high fat content and appealing texture. 

Offering these seeds in tray, tube, or hopper feeders can bring these energetic birds to your yard.

Do Chickadees Eat Mealworms?

Yes, chickadees do eat mealworms. 

And they’re not picky about it—they’ll consume both live and dried mealworms, making them an easy and excellent food source for these little birds.

Live mealworms are a popular choice for bird enthusiasts looking to feed chickadees in their backyard. 

This is because they closely resemble the insects chickadees would naturally eat in the wild. 

Live mealworms are nutritionally rich and provide the birds with a high level of protein and fat, crucial for their daily energy requirements.

Dried mealworms, on the other hand, are a more convenient option for bird feeders. They have a longer shelf life and are easier to store than live mealworms. 

Dried mealworms still offer a good level of nutrition, making them an acceptable alternative when live mealworms are not available.

If you decide to offer mealworms to chickadees, be sure to provide them in a suitable feeder that keeps the mealworms contained while allowing the chickadees easy access. 

A shallow dish or a hanging feeder with protective mesh can be a practical choice for this purpose.

Do Chickadees Drink from Hummingbird Feeders?

If you’re wondering whether these opportunists also drink from hummingbird feeders, the answer is yes. 

While chickadees are not as commonly seen at nectar feeders as other birds like orioles and finches, they are definitely attracted to these feeders. 

One possible reason is that they seem to appreciate the sweet liquid provided by the feeders, which mimics the nectar they might consume in their natural environment.

During colder months, chickadees may also be attracted to hummingbird feeders as a water source.

In freezing conditions, accessible water is harder to come by. Thus, if the liquid in the feeder is unfrozen, chickadees may come to drink from it.

How to Feed Chickadees

Feeding chickadees in your backyard is a simple and enjoyable way to attract these charming birds. 

  • Know their favorite foods: Chickadees particularly enjoy black oil sunflower seeds, striped sunflower seeds, and hulled sunflower seeds. You’ll also have a higher success rate with shelled and chopped peanuts, peanut butter, and suet. Foods they may also try but don’t love include millet and cracked corn, so don’t make these primary food sources for chickadees.
  • Mind the type of bird feeder you use: These nimble birds can easily eat from tube feeders, hopper feeders, or platform feeders. 
  • Get a bird bath: A bird bath is another great addition to your feeding setup, as it provides a place for chickadees to drink or bathe in. Make sure to regularly clean the bird bath and replace the water to maintain a healthy environment.
  • Give them hideout spots: To increase your chances of attracting chickadees, ensure that your feeding station is set up in an area with a mix of trees and shrubs. This provides them with a natural habitat where they can perch, hide, and forage. 
  • Plant berry-rich shrubs: Place feeders near berry-producing plants to give chickadees access to their preferred fruits. Additionally, including plants like thistle can help provide more natural food sources for them.
  • Keep bird feeders well-stocked: During the colder months, chickadees require additional nutrition to maintain their energy levels, especially between October and April. This is a great time to increase the frequency of your feeding. Make sure to keep your feeders stocked regularly so that chickadees have a consistent source of food during this challenging time.


Are Chickadees Friendly Birds?

Yes, chickadees are generally friendly and sociable birds. They are often seen in mixed flocks, interacting with other bird species. 

Black-capped chickadees, Carolina chickadees, and mountain chickadees are some of the common types found in the USA and Canada. 

They might appear nervous while foraging, but this behavior is a natural response to predators such as hawks and owls.

Are Chickadees Good for Your Yard?

Chickadees are beneficial for your yard as they help to control insect populations by feeding on them, including pests like caterpillars and aphids.

They also benefit the environment by carting seeds and pollen from place to place, favoring trees like birches and willows. 

Plus, their cheerful calls can also make your outdoor space more enjoyable.

What Do Chickadees Do All Day?

Chickadees spend the vast majority of their time in search of food, from sunup until sundown.

They may also gather materials like wood shavings to create nests and engage in grooming or preening to maintain their feathers.

Do Chickadees Mate for Life?

Chickadees mostly do form long-term monogamous bonds, commonly referred to as mating for life. 

The male and female work together to build and defend their nests. However, some chickadees may mate for only one breeding season.

How Do You Gain a Chickadee’s Trust?

If you want to earn a chickadee’s trust, you must be patient. 

Offer foods they love, like sunflower seeds, peanuts, and peanut butter. If possible, provide a platform feeder to make access easier. 

Spending time quietly observing and not making sudden movements can also help to establish trust.

Where Do Chickadees Sleep?

Chickadees sleep in small excavated and protected spaces, like the cavities of soft-wood or rotting trees. They may also sleep in nest boxes.

They prefer dense vegetation, where they can become relatively invisible to predators and escape harsh weather.

How Intelligent Are Chickadees?

Chickadees are very intelligent birds. They have a good memory and can locate food caches during winter months. 

In fact, they use their intelligence to suss out whom to trust and whom not to, including individual humans and other bird and animal species they live amongst.

What Color Houses Do Chickadees Like?

Chickadees prefer natural-colored houses that blend in with their natural environments. 

An unpainted nest box or a bird house painted in low-key shades like brown, gray, or green is more likely to attract them to nest in.

What Do Chickadees Do at Night in the Winter?

In the winter, chickadees conserve energy by shivering. They can lower their body temperature and will also huddle together in small groups to stay warm. 

Part of the reason they choose small, protected spaces to sleep in is that they are warmer for the chickadees, and less prone to winds, rain, and other weather conditions.

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