Bird GuideChickadees and TitmiceChestnut-backed Chickadee
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Poecile rufescens

At a Glance

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.
Chickadees and Titmice, Perching Birds
Low Concern
Forests and Woodlands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
Alaska and The North, California, Northwest, Rocky Mountains, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Flitter, Rapid Wingbeats

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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


4 1/2 -5" (11-13 cm). Rich chestnut back and sides contrasting with gray wings; sooty brown cap (may look black). (In the form found along the central California coast, the sides are gray, not chestnut.) Where it overlaps with Boreal Chickadee locally in northwest, Chestnut-backed is always much more richly colored.
About the size of a Sparrow
Black, Brown, Gray, Red, White
Wing Shape
Tail Shape
Notched, Rounded, Square-tipped

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.
Call Pattern
Falling, Flat
Call Type
Buzz, Chirp/Chip, Trill


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.



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.


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

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.


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 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.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Surveys indicate slight declines in population in recent decades, possibly because of loss of habitat.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Chestnut-backed Chickadee. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.