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Nature Notebook – Chickadee Brains

Michigan winters can be a tough feat for a creature weighing less than half an ounce. For a lot of Michigan animals active in winter, caching food when the bounty is plenty is one way to endure the frigid, snowy days.

The common black-capped chickadee is one species of bird that does just that, caching hundreds and hundreds of seeds and berries in different hiding spots throughout their territory.

For example, when a chickadee collects a new sunflower seed from your backyard feeder, they may eat it right away, or store it in some location- such as in a crevice on a tree, in between a windowsill, or under a rock.

But how does the chickadee, who eats a third of its weight each day, remember all of those hiding places? With a special adaptation, of course!

Scientists have discovered that a chickadee’s brain actually increases production of brain neurons in the winter and then essentially deletes these neurons come spring. This allows the chickadee to remember thousands of food hiding places in the winter and adapt to other changes in their environment and flock.