Photo: Missy Mandel/Great Backyard Bird Count Participant

Black-capped Chickadee

Poecile atricapillus

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.
Conservation status Widespread and common, and numbers apparently stable, possibly increasing in some areas.
Family Chickadees and Titmice
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.
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.
Photo Gallery
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.


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.

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.


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.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Migration

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.

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Migration

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.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A buzzy chick-a-dee-dee-dee or a clear, whistled fee-bee, the second note lower and often doubled. In overlap zone with Carolina Chickadee song may not be helpful for identification as each species can learn the wrong song.

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