The curious black-capped chickadee is the most common type of chickadee in North America, with a widespread range and familiar appearance. Its distinctive calls are also easy to identify, making this bird a popular one for birders developing their birding by ear skills.
- Bill: Small, black
- Size: 5.5 inches long with 8-inch wingspan, long tail, round proportions
- Colors: White, black, gray, buff
- Markings: Genders are similar with a thick black cap, bright white cheeks, black chin and throat, light gray or olive-gray back and gray wings and tail with white edges and a white wash on the shoulder. Chest and upper abdomen are grayish white, while there is a buff wash on the flanks and lower abdomen.
Insects, berries, seeds, spiders
Habitat and Migration:
Black-capped chickadees are year-round residents of boreal, deciduous and mixed forests as well as riparian areas below the tundra line throughout Alaska and Canada. Their southern range extends to Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, with small populations even further south in the upper elevations of the Appalachian Mountains. When food sources are limited in northern regions, these birds may irrupt far south of their typical range.
The black-capped chickadee’s most familiar call is the raspy “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” for which it was named. Other calls and songs include a piercing, 3-4 syllable whistle, a rapid “ti-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti” call and “feeee-bee” or “feeee-bee-bee” calls.
These are perky, curious birds with hyperactive energy. They forage in trees and shrubs, often clinging upside down to pluck insects from underneath leaves. Very sociable, they are often found in small flocks throughout the year and in larger mixed flocks with juncos, nuthatches, titmice and other small birds throughout the winter. Black-capped chickadees regularly cache food in thousands of locations, and they have a remarkable memory for their food storage, returning to caches weeks later if necessary. When feeding, they demonstrate a complex flock hierarchy.
Black-capped chickadees are monogamous birds, and a mated pair will produce one brood of 5-9 eggs each year. Both birds incubate the nest for 11-13 days, and the altricial young will remain in the nest with the female parent for 14-18 days after hatching.
Attracting Black-Capped Chickadees:
A black-capped chickadee is often one of the first birds to discover a new feeder, and they are common backyard visitors, particularly in winter. Birders who offer suet, peanuts, peanut butter, black oil sunflower seeds and bread product kitchen scraps will see these birds regularly, and individual birds can become tame enough to be hand-fed. Black-capped chickadees can be encouraged to nest in birdhouses with sawdust or wood shavings in the bottom, and in the field birders can attract them with pishing.
- Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)
- Boreal Chickadee (Poecile hudsonica)
- Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli)
- Mexican Chickadee (Poecile sclateri)