Black-Capped Chickadee


The little bird that speaks his name and does acrobatic stunts on tree branches delights all bird watchers.  This plump little fellow with the black cap is friendly, and chances are he's been at your feeder in the winter.

Chickadees look for tree holes, either natural or made by woodpeckers, for their nests.  But if a tree is sufficiently soft or rotten, they may make their own holes.  A dead birch tree, which is rotten in the center, is an ideal place for a chickadee nest. 

Four species of chickadee may be found in nesting boxes.  The Black-capped Chickadee or Poecile atricapilla lives in all northern and most middle states as well as in most of Canada.  Its black cap and bib, and white cheeks identify it, as does its chick-a-dee-dee-dee call.  The Carolina Chickadee  orPoecile carolinensis, which looks almost the same, lives in the southeast quarter of the US and has a slightly higher, faster version of the call.

The Mountain Chickadee or Poecile gambeli has a white eyebrow through its black cap and lives in and west of the Rocky Mountains, where he calls chick-adee-adee-adee.  The Chestnut-backed Chickadee has a chestnut-brown back and a brown cap and lives in the northwest and along the California coast.  His call is more of a tseek-a-dee-dee.

The Black-capped and Carolina Chickadees like mixed forests, open woodlands and suburban areas, while their western cousins prefer coniferous forests.

Chickadee belong to the titmouse family.  They are largely an insect eaters, but in winter they may depend greatly on seeds and berries.  They are adept at foraging for insect eggs and larvae from twigs and bark, and this accounts for their active hopping and climbing around on trees to spot their food from all angles!  Their favorite foods at feeders are sunflower seeds, peanut kernels, other nutmeats, peanut butter, and suet. 

In the non-breeding season chickadees tend to flock together, and sometimes the flock may even include titmice, kinglets, nuthatches, and other birds.  During breeding season, the males will drive others out of their territories, so you may have only one pair of chickadees in your yard, where you may have had a flock all winter.

From the beginning of courtship through the period of egg incubation, the male chickadee feeds the female.  They typically raise one or two broods a year of 6 to 8 young and are year-round residents.

Since chickadees' natural means of nesting is to excavate a hole in a rotting tree, you may make your nest box more attractive to them by putting a little sawdust or wood chips inside it for them. They will not use it for nesting, but since they usually work in pairs to carry a little sawdust away from the hole they are making in a tree, they will perceive that this hole in a tree is appropriate for them, and they will carry the sawdust away before nesting there.

Chickadees move to denser woods for breeding and nesting, but the rest of the year they like open areas and forest edges.