Photo: Glenn Bartley/Vireo

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Poecile rufescens

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.
Conservation status Surveys indicate slight declines in population in recent decades, possibly because of loss of habitat.
Family Chickadees and Titmice
Habitat Moist conifer forests; adjacent oaks, shade trees. In much of its range, a bird of dense, moist coniferous forest, with trees such as spruce, fir, tamarack, hemlock, and others. In southern part of range, lives in pine-oak woods and in redwood forest with understory of alders and willows, also in oak woods and in groves of willows along streams.
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.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • adult
  • adult
  • adult with fledgling
Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly by hopping among twigs and branches and gleaning food from surface, often hanging upside down to reach underside of branches. Often probes in crevices in bark, and sometimes takes food while hovering. Readily comes to bird feeders for seeds or suet. May store food, recovering it later.


Eggs

6-7, sometimes 5-9. White, with fine reddish brown dots concentrated at larger end; sometimes unmarked white. Incubation is probably by female, but details not well known. If disturbed, adult on nest flutters wings and makes loud hissing noise. Young: Probably cared for by both parents. Development of young and age at first flight not well known.


Young

Probably cared for by both parents. Development of young and age at first flight not well known.

Diet

Mostly insects, seeds, berries. Feeds on a wide variety of insects, including caterpillars, moths, beetles, leafhoppers, scale insects, small wasps, and others. Also eats spiders, seeds (especially of conifers), and berries.


Nesting

Nesting behavior is not well known. Members of pair may remain together all year. Nest site is in hole in tree, usually low, 2-20' above ground; can be much higher (reportedly up to 80"). Will nest in the same site more than one year. Uses natural cavity in dead or rotten wood, the chickadees often excavating or enlarging it themselves; also will nest in old woodpecker holes or in nest boxes. Nest has foundation of moss, lichens, feathers, bark fibers, plant down, lined with soft materials such as animal hair.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Mostly permanent resident. Individuals may wander short distances in fall and winter.

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Migration

Mostly permanent resident. Individuals may wander short distances in fall and winter.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A squeaky chick-a-dee, somewhat shriller and faster than that of other chickadees. Often simply utters a thin tsee-deee and thin lisping notes.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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