Bird Forecast

What to watch for in June: Cheerful Chickadees and Colorful Cardinals

Here’s the Central Texas bird forecast for the month, courtesy of Travis Audubon. Learn more about Central Texas birds and bird-related events for all ages at or by calling 512-300-BIRD. Follow us at

The Carolina Chickadee is a familiar bird in Austin. It is common in neighborhoods and parks with mature deciduous and/or evergreen trees. Chickadees readily visit seed feeders too. They are partial to black oil sunflower seeds. It’s easy to take these perky birds for granted, but learning more about them may increase your enjoyment of these small active birds.

Carolina Chickadee with Sunflower Seed
COURTESY: The Online Zoo 

Carolina Chickadees are about 4.75 inches long and weigh about 1/3 ounce. You get the idea of how light these birds are if you imagine holding four sheets of 8.5 x 11 paper in a business envelope with one hand and three chickadees in the other! It’s difficult to tell the male from the female by looks alone. They both have black caps, bright white cheeks, and black bibs. Their backs are pale gray with whitish underparts. Studies show that the males are slightly larger, but that is hard to see unless you have the bird in hand. The male sings, especially during the breeding season, while the female makes a variety of calls including the snake display. The snake display includes a call similar to white noise, and sometimes includes sounds produced by the bird hitting its feathers and head against the nest materials and cavity. It might make a predator think twice about entering the nest hole.

Carolina Chickadee Excavating a Nest Cavity
COURTESY: Jane Tillman

Carolina Chickadees are found across the eastern 2/3 of Texas, up to Kansas and across the southeastern U.S. but ranging into New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Its northern relative is the slightly larger Black-capped Chickadee.

Carolina Chickadee with Caterpillar
COURTESY: The Online Zoo

Carolina Chickadees typically only have one brood per year. They begin nesting in March. They are cavity nesters, using natural holes, such as where tree limbs have broken off, but they will use nest boxes and nesting tubes. Occasionally they do some excavation of natural cavities. Typically their nests will be found about 9 to 10 feet up in trees. The entry holes are small, and therefore chickadees are not generally a host for the Brown-headed Cowbird which lays its eggs in other species nests.

Carolina Chickadee Gleaning
COURTESY: The Online Zoo

The female chickadee lays an average of six eggs, and she does most of the incubation. Birds fledge between 16 and 19 days after hatching. Amazingly, after 2 to 3 weeks the fledglings are independent and disperse. Most of them will be capable of breeding the following year. It takes between 6,000 and 9.000 caterpillars to raise one chickadee brood from eggs to fledglings. If you like chickadees eliminate or reduce pesticide spraying.

Have you noticed fewer chickadees at your bird feeder in the summer? Like many birds, Carolina Chickadees switch their diets with the seasons. In the spring, summer and fall, 80-90% of their diet is insects and spiders. In winter their diet is about 50/50 animal and plant matter. Carolina Chickadees are acrobatic in their foraging. They glean insects like caterpillars from leaves and dried leaf clusters, hanging upside down to grab them. Less often they probe bark and branches for tasty morsels. Do you ever see chickadees foraging on the ground? It’s very rare to see them there, although sometimes they do move to shrubs and vines to check for invertebrates. Note their feeder behavior too. Titmice, cardinals and jays are all dominant over the chickadees and will cause them to scatter. Does the bird stay at the feeder to eat the seed, or does it fly away? Take time to watch and see. Some research has shown that supplemental feeding at backyard feeders improves survivorship in chickadees. If you do decide to feed them, be sure to keep feeders clean and seed fresh. Moldy seeds can be fatal.

Seeing Red

The red male Northern Cardinal and its more subtly-colored brownish mate with red highlights are also familiar neighborhood birds. Females and males both sing, so as a fun summer goal see if you can find her singing. (Often she will be on the nest.) Unlike chickadees, cardinals do raise second and even third broods in a single year. If you see a male cardinal feeding a begging bird in June take a look and check to see if the begging bird (fluttering its wings and following the adult around) has a black bill. Fledglings have black bills but otherwise look very much like adult females. Roughly 70% of the cardinal’s diet is animal matter and 30% is invertebrates. Like most songbirds, cardinal nestlings are raised on invertebrates. Learn more about this beautiful bird online.

Male Northern Cardinal
COURTESY: James Giroux
Juvenile Northern Cardinal 
COURTESY: Jane Tillman

Lights Out continue through June 15

Most migrating birds have passed through Austin already this spring. However, there are late migrants that perhaps have the farthest distance to travel or are tarried along the way to get fitter for the remainder of their journeys. Keep lights out from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. to give them the best chance of safely finding their way through central Texas.

Upcoming Travis Audubon Events Check the Travis Audubon events calendar for details on field trips, classes and other events. Beginners are welcome on all field trips. Get outdoors with a knowledgeable leader and learn more about our beautiful Austin-area birds. Most field trips fill quickly, and most require registration.

Compiled by Travis Audubon volunteer Jane Tillman