How to Tell a Carolina From a Black-Capped Chickadee

Hint: Their voices give them away.

This story is brought to you by BirdNote, a show that airs daily on public radio stations nationwide.


Of all the birds that turn up at birdfeeders, chickadees—ever perky, smartly dressed in black and white—are favorites. And they’re instantly recognizable as chickadees.

Yet sometimes we have to ask ourselves: “Which chickadee is it?” In the Eastern and Central states, for example, there are two species. Mostly, they seem to divide up by latitude: Black-capped Chickadees pervade the northern half of the region, and Carolina Chickadees, the southern half. 

But in some places they overlap. And while the two look nearly identical, their voices give them away. Black-capped Chickadees sing a sweet, whistled two to three notes, the first a bit higher. In contrast, Carolina Chickadees usually sing more notes and all at different or alternating pitches. Here they are again. 

With a little listening practice, you’ll find that the birds’ contact calls sound different, too. Black-capped Chickadees actually seem to say “chickadee", while Carolinas blurt their name much faster and at higher pitch.

So while you watch those feeders, keep your ears tuned! 

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Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of OrnithologyIthaca, New York. Song of Black-capped Chickadee [163374] recorded by M. Medler; song of Carolina Chickadee [84822] by W.L. Hershberger; call of Black-capped Chickadee [106942] by R.S. Little; call of Carolina Chickadee [73963] by G.A. Keller. 

BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.

Producer: John Kessler

Executive Producer: Chris Peterson

Written by Bob Sundstrom

© 2014 Tune In to     April 2014     Narrator: Mary McCann