Photo: Brian E. Small/Vireo

Mountain Chickadee

Poecile gambeli

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.
Conservation status Still widespread and common, but surveys indicate declines in some areas.
Family Chickadees and Titmice
Habitat Mountain forests, conifers; lower levels in winter. Breeds in a variety of coniferous stands, including forests of pine, spruce, fir, or Douglas-fir, also groves of aspen in coniferous zones. Sometimes in lower habitats such as pine-oak or pinyon-juniper, and rarely breeds in cottonwood groves in lowlands. May wander to lowlands in winter, occupying planted conifers if available.
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.
Photo Gallery
  • adult, fresh plumage
  • adult, worn plumage
Feeding Behavior

Forages actively in trees, often feeding very high in conifers. Forages by gleaning food from twigs, often hanging upside down. Works along trunk or major branches, probing in bark crevices; has been seen using a wood splinter to probe in deep cracks. Sometimes takes food from while hovering. Will come to bird feeders for seeds or suet.


Eggs

7-9, sometimes 5-12. White, dotted with reddish brown, sometimes unmarked. Incubation is probably by female only, about 14 days. Adult disturbed on nest will give a loud hiss, sounding like a snake. Young: Female spends much time with young at first, while male brings most food; later, both parents feed young. Age of young at first flight about 3 weeks.


Young

Female spends much time with young at first, while male brings most food; later, both parents feed young. Age of young at first flight about 3 weeks.

Diet

Mostly insects, seeds, and berries. Feeds on a wide variety of insects, including many caterpillars, beetles, and others; often feeds on insect eggs and pupae, as well as spiders and their eggs. Also eats many seeds, some berries and small fruits.


Nesting

In some areas, numbers may be limited by a scarcity of good nesting sites. Nest site is usually in hole in tree, either natural cavity or old woodpecker hole, or a cavity enlarged or excavated by the chickadees. Usually 5-25' above the ground, sometimes in stumps only a few inches up. Same site may be used more than one year. Sometimes uses nest box, occasionally even nests in holes in ground. In natural site in tree, both sexes help excavate. Nest (built by female, probably with help from male) is soft foundation of bark fibers, moss, hair, feathers.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

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

Migration

Mostly a permanent resident. Some (mainly young birds) move to lower elevations in winter, sometimes out into lowland valleys and plains.

Download Our Bird Guide App

Migration

Mostly a permanent resident. Some (mainly young birds) move to lower elevations in winter, sometimes out into lowland valleys and plains.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A hoarse chick-a-zee-zee, zee. Spring song is similar to that of the Black-capped Chickadee, but 3-noted: fee-bee-bee, the bees at a lower pitch.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Chickadees and Titmice Perching Birds

Mountain Chickadee

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
Zoom InOut

Explore Similar Birds