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Black-capped Chickadee

Poecile atricapillus ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: PARIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A bird almost universally considered “cute” thanks to its oversized round head, tiny body, and curiosity about everything, including humans. The chickadee’s black cap and bib; white cheeks; gray back, wings, and tail; and whitish underside with buffy sides are distinctive. Its habit of investigating people and everything else in its home territory, and quickness to discover bird feeders, make it one of the first birds most people learn.

Become a Discovery Partner
Be a Better Birder Tutorial 3

Songs

In most of North America, the song is a simple, pure 2 or 3-note whistled fee-bee or hey, sweetie. In the Pacific Northwest, the song is 3 or 4 notes on the same pitch; the song is also different on Martha's Vineyard in MA. In much of the range, males begin singing in mid-January, and the song increases in frequency as winter progresses. Females also sing occasionally.

Calls

Chickadees make their chickadee-dee-dee call using increasing numbers of dee notes when they are alarmed. They also have a gargling call, often given aggressively when a lower-ranking bird gets close to a higher-ranking one; also exchanged between members of a pair. Black-capped Chickadees make a high pitched see as a high-intensity alarm call, often when a fast-approaching predator is detected. When chickadees hear this call, they freeze in position until they hear a chickadee-dee call signifying “all clear.” High see calls most often given by males.

Other Sounds

Chickadee nestlings make an explosive hiss and slap the inside of their nest cavity when an intruder looks in.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

Feeders and nest boxes are often used by chickadees; consider putting up a nest box to attract a breeding pair. Make sure you put it up well before breeding season. Attach a guard to keep predators from raiding eggs and young. Black-capped Chickadees are especially attracted to a box when it is filled with sawdust or wood shavings. To keep wrens out of boxes you want chickadees to nest in, place nest boxes at least 60 feet into a wooded area. The compass orientation of the entrance hole probably does not matter at all, but chickadees do seem to prefer an unobstructed path to the entrance hole, without branches and leaves in the way. Setting a nest box farther back from other trees and branches can help deter squirrels and mice from jumping to the box and eating chickadee eggs and nestlings. Find out more about nest boxes on our Attract Birds pages. You'll find plans for building a nest box of the appropriate size on our All About Birdhouses site.

Chickadees are one of the easiest birds to attract to feeders, for suet, sunflower, and peanuts. They don’t mind using tiny hanging feeders that swing in the wind, and also readily visit window feeders. Planting willow, alder, and birch trees provides future nesting habitat for chickadees.

Find This Bird

Within their range, Black-capped chickadees are easily seen at many feeding stations, and in virtually any area with trees. They are often heard before they’re seen. They’re frequently attracted to investigate birders making pishing sounds. Once you’ve learned this bird’s calls, listen for them and then look for the flocks they travel in. Warblers and other migrating songbirds associate with chickadees, and by looking through the chickadees you’re more likely to find these other species as well.

Get Involved

Keep track of the Black-capped Chickadees at your feeder with Project FeederWatch

Look for Black-capped Chickadee nests and contribute valuable data about them through NestWatch

You Might Also Like

Birds Change Their Minds—Literally. A Birdscope article about how chickadees and other species replace brain neurons every fall.

Looking for the Perfect Fixer-Upper: Chickadees prefer nest tubes filled with wood shavings more than nest boxes (Birdscope)

The View from Sapsucker Woods A surprising insight about chickadees at feeders by Cornell Lab of Ornithology director John Fitzpatrick

Distinguishing Chickadees: Refresh your chickadee identification skills.

Tricky Bird IDs: Black-capped and Carolina chickadees

Why sing the wrong song? The puzzle of bilingual chickadees. Story in Living Bird magazine.

The Case of the Bizarre Beaks: Story in Living Bird Magazine.

Black and White and UV All Over: Story in BirdScope.

Risk Management for Chickadees, Living Bird, Autumn 2013

All About Birds Blog, Warming Temperatures Are Pushing Two Chickadee Species—and Their Hybrids—Northward, March 2014.

All About Birds blog, Research Surprise: Many Birds Exposed to Eye Disease, but Only Finches Get Sick, August 25, 2014.

All About Birds blog, Here’s What to Feed Your Summer Bird Feeder Visitors, July 11, 2014.