Black-capped ChickadeePoecile atricapillus

adult, Eastern
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
immature, Eastern
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO
fledglings
O.S. Pettingill, Jr. Living Royalty Trus/VIREO
adult, Rocky Mountain
Rolf Nussbaumer/VIREO
adult, Eastern
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
adult, Eastern
Glenn Bartley/VIREO

Description

Little flocks of Black-capped Chickadees enliven the winter woods with their active behavior and their cheery-sounding chick-a-dee callnotes as they fly from tree to tree, often accompanied by an assortment of nuthatches, creepers, kinglets, and other birds. This is a very popular bird across the northern United States and southern Canada, always welcomed at bird feeders, where it may take sunflower seeds one at time and fly away to stuff them into bark crevices.

Habitat

Mixed and deciduous woods; willow thickets, groves, shade trees. Most common in open woods and forest edge, especially where birches or alders grow; avoids purely coniferous forest. Where it overlaps with other chickadee species in the north and west, Black-capped is mostly restricted to deciduous groves. Will live in suburbs as long as nest sites are available.

Feeding Diet

Mostly insects, seeds, and berries. Diet varies with season; vegetable matter (seeds and fruits) may be no more than 10% of diet in summer, up to 50% in winter. Summer diet is mostly caterpillars and other insects, also some spiders, snails, and other invertebrates; also eats berries. In winter, feeds on insects (especially their eggs and pupae), seeds, berries, small fruits. Will eat fat of dead animals.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly by hopping among twigs and branches and gleaning food from surface, often hanging upside down to reach underside of branches. Sometimes takes food while hovering, and may fly out to catch insects in mid-air. Readily comes to bird feeders for seeds or suet. Often stores food, recovering it later.

Nesting

Pairs typically form in fall and remain together as part of winter flock. Flocks break up in late winter, and both members of pair help defend nesting territory. Male often feeds female, beginning very early in spring. Nest site is in hole in tree, typically enlargement of small natural cavity in rotten wood, sometimes old woodpecker hole or nesting box; usually 5-20' above the ground. In natural cavity, both sexes help excavate or enlarge the interior. Nest (built by female) has foundation of moss or other matter, lining of softer material such as animal hair. Eggs: Usually 6-8, sometimes more or fewer. White, with fine dots of reddish brown often concentrated around larger end. Incubation is by female only, 12-13 days. Female covers eggs with nest material when leaving nest. Male often brings food to female during incubation. Young: Female remains with young most of time at first, while male brings food; later, both parents bring food. Young leave nest at about 16 days. Normally 1 brood per year.

Eggs

Usually 6-8, sometimes more or fewer. White, with fine dots of reddish brown often concentrated around larger end. Incubation is by female only, 12-13 days. Female covers eggs with nest material when leaving nest. Male often brings food to female during incubation. Young: Female remains with young most of time at first, while male brings food; later, both parents bring food. Young leave nest at about 16 days. Normally 1 brood per year.

Young

Female remains with young most of time at first, while male brings food; later, both parents bring food. Young leave nest at about 16 days. Normally 1 brood per year.

Conservation

Widespread and common, and numbers apparently stable, possibly increasing in some areas.

Range

Mostly a permanent resident, but occasionally stages "invasions" in fall, with large numbers seen flying southward (mostly in northeastern states and southeastern Canada). These invasions usually do not penetrate much beyond southern limit of breeding range.

Listen

song (with switch in songtypes)
song
chickadee-dee calls #1
more calls
chickadee-dee calls #2
many additional calls

Similar Species

adult male, breeding

Black-throated Gray Warbler

This strikingly patterned warbler is typical of semi-arid country in the West. It is often common in summer in the foothills, in open woods of juniper, pinyon pine, or oak, where its buzzy song carries well across the dry slopes. Of all the western warblers, this is the one that shows up most often in the East, but it is still rare enough there to provide excitement for eastern birders.

adult male, breeding

Black-and-white Warbler

This bird is often a favorite warbler for beginning birders, because it is easy to see and easy to recognize. It was once known as the "Black-and-white Creeper," a name that describes its behavior quite well. Like a nuthatch or creeper (and unlike other warblers), it climbs about on the trunks and major limbs of trees, seeking insects in the bark crevices. It often feeds low, and nests even lower, usually on the ground.

adult

Gray-headed Chickadee

In North America this is the rarest and most poorly known of the chickadees, living only in remote areas of northern Alaska and northwestern Canada. Determined birders who seek it, traveling by bush plane or wilderness road, may find it at a few sites where spruces and willows grow along Arctic streams. In northern Europe, where the species is known as "Siberian Tit," its habits are better known.

adult

Bridled Titmouse

An active little crested bird of southwestern woodlands. In lower canyons of the Arizona mountains, the Bridled Titmouse is often one of the most common birds at all seasons, with small flocks moving about and chattering in the oaks as they search the branches for insects. The callnotes and behavior of this species (and even its head markings) may suggest a chickadee more than the other titmice.

adult

Carolina Chickadee

Very similar to the Black-capped Chickadee, this bird replaces it in the southeastern states. Living in milder climates, it has been reported to be less of a visitor to bird feeders, but it does come into suburban yards for sunflower seeds. Where the ranges of Black-capped and Carolina chickadees come together, they often interbreed. In these contact zones, they also can learn to imitate each other's songs -- causing great confusion for birdwatchers.

adult, fresh plumage

Mountain Chickadee

Almost throughout the higher mountains of the West, this chickadee is common in the conifer forests. It is not always easy to see, because it often feeds very high in the trees. However, except during the nesting season, any mixed flock of small birds moving through the highland pines is likely to include a nucleus of Mountain Chickadees.

adult

Boreal Chickadee

This dusty-looking chickadee lives in spruce forest of the North, mostly north of the Canadian border. A hardy permanent resident, it survives the winter even as far north as the Arctic Circle. Like other chickadees, this species becomes much more quiet and inconspicuous during the nesting season. Because that is the time of year when birders most often search for it, the Boreal Chickadee has gained a reputation as an excessively elusive bird.

adult

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

The most colorful of the chickadees, the Chestnut-backed is common in the Northwest. Inland, it may overlap in range with up to three other close relatives; but in the very humid coastal belt, in wet forests of hemlock and tamarack, this is the only chickadee present. In those surroundings its rich chestnut colors may be hard to see, but it can still be recognized by its husky, fast chick-a-dee calls.

adult

Mexican Chickadee

The southernmost of the chickadees, this bird is common in mountain forests over much of Mexico. It barely enters our area, crossing the border only to the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona and the Animas Mountains of New Mexico. Most birders encounter it in the Chiricahuas, where it ranges through the Douglas-firs at high elevations. In late summer, after nesting, Mexican Chickadees join mixed flocks with various warblers and other birds.

Vireo

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