Tool Use by Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Posted by Scott Sillett on January 2, 2007

small black and white bird sitting on bird feeder holding a small stick in its beak
Chestnut-backed chickadee holding stick in its beak

In late February of 2007, Sandy Salmons observed a chestnut-backed chickadee visiting her backyard suet feeder for about two weeks in Nanoose Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. She was amazed to see the bird use a stick or thorn to pry seeds from the surrounding suet.

This is the first report of tool use in a chestnut-backed chickadee, but the related brown-headed nuthatch is known to use pieces of bark to pry off tree bark to reach insects underneath. A variety of other birds also use tools, and some crows even deliberately improve natural objects to improve their functionality.

Chestnut-backed chickadees are found from southern Alaska to central California, mostly along the coast. They often come to bird feeders to eat seed and frequently lay their eggs in backyard bird boxes.