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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Carolina Chickadee

Poecile carolinensis ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: PARIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Carolina Chickadee Photo

John James Audubon named this bird while he was in South Carolina. The curious, intelligent Carolina Chickadee looks very much like a Black-capped Chickadee, with a black cap, black bib, gray wings and back, and whitish underside. Carolina and Black-capped chickadees hybridize in the area where their ranges overlap, but the two species probably diverged more than 2.5 million years ago.

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Keys to identification Help

Chickadees
Chickadees
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    This tiny, approachable bird has a short neck and large head, giving it a distinctive spherical body shape. Its tail is fairly long and narrow. Its bill is a bit thicker than a warbler’s but thinner than a finch’s.

  • Color Pattern

    Carolina Chickadees have a black cap and bib separated by stark white cheeks. The back, wings, and tail are soft gray.

  • Behavior

    Inquisitive and acrobatic. Except in the breeding season, associates with other Carolina Chickadees and a variety of other small species in feeding flocks that roam within a fairly large area. Despite being a flocking species, they normally space themselves fairly widely while eating.

  • Habitat

    Forested areas or urban and suburban yards or parks with large trees.

Range Map Help

Carolina Chickadee Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    Carolina Chickadee

    Adult
    • Black cap and throat
    • White cheek with pale grayish nape
    • Pale gray below (may be buffy on sides)
    • Gray back
    • © Errol Taskin
  • Adult

    Carolina Chickadee

    Adult
    • Black cap and throat
    • Pale below, often with buffy sides
    • White cheek with pale grayish nape
    • Long tail
    • © Kevin Shea, Virginia, January 2009
  • Adult

    Carolina Chickadee

    Adult
    • White cheek with pale grayish nape
    • Pale below, often with buffy sides
    • Wings dark with some grayish edging
    • © Kevin Shea, Virginia, December 2008
  • Adult

    Carolina Chickadee

    Adult
    • White cheek with pale grayish nape
    • Black bib with sharp edges and neat corners
    • Gray back
    • Wings dark with some grayish edging
    • Short black bill
    • © Michael Drummond, December 2008
  • Adult

    Carolina Chickadee

    Adult
    • White cheek with pale grayish nape
    • Gray back
    • Wings dark with some grayish edging (usually not bright)
    • © Donna Wilson, December 2008
  • Adult

    Carolina Chickadee

    Adult
    • White cheek with pale grayish nape
    • Pale below, often with buffy sides
    • Wings dark with some grayish edging (usually not bright)
    • © Dianne Powell, December 2008
  • Adult

    Carolina Chickadee

    Adult
    • Pale below, often with buffy sides
    • Gray back
    • Wings dark with some grayish edging (usually not bright)
    • © Don Rash, December 2008

Similar Species

  • Adult

    Black-capped Chickadee

    Adult
    • Usually can be separated by range (Black-capped in north U.S., Carolina in south), but overlap in a narrow belt from Nebraska E to New Jersey
    • Usually browner overall, with more orangish on sides
    • Mostly white nape
    • Black bib bigger and more ragged in corners
    • More white edging on wings
    • Song and calls different
    • © Jerry Acton
  • Adult male

    White-breasted Nuthatch

    Adult male
    • Very different shape than chickadees, with short tail and long bill
    • No black throat
    • Back bluish-gray
    • © Mike E. Worthington, Georgia, January 2009
  • Adult male

    Golden-winged Warbler

    Adult male
    • Gray overall with bright yellow wing-panel
    • Black throat and mask, yellow crown
    • Thin black bill
    • © Gerry Dewaghe, Pennsylvania, May 2006
  • Adult male transitional

    House Sparrow

    Adult male transitional
    • Black throat and bib, gray cap
    • Reddish brown nape and back
    • Gray face and underparts
    • Thick bill
    • © Donald Metzner, January 2009

Similar Species

The ranges of Black-capped and Carolina chickadees don't overlap much. Where they do overlap, listen for differences in their voices: Carolinas have a four-noted song, and a faster chick-a-dee call. Also look for Carolina Chickadees to show very little white edges in the folded wing and a black bib that's smaller and looks cleaner at the edge. White-breasted Nuthatch has a thicker shape, shorter tail, longer bill, and white throat. During spring migration, adult male Blackpoll Warblers have a black cap and bib with white cheeks, but their back and sides are conspicuously streaked and the legs are yellow and they stay upright as they forage, sticking to the tops of trees.

Backyard Tips

Carolina Chickadees visit feeders for sunflower seeds, peanut chips, and suet. Make sure any peanuts you provide stay dry so no mold can form on them.

Sometimes Carolina Chickadees nest in nest tubes or nest boxes. They do not seem to care one way or the other whether the boxes or tubes are stuffed with sawdust or wood shavings. 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. 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.

Find This Bird

Learn Carolina Chickadee call notes in order to find them in forested areas. This bird is an especially important one for beginners within its range to learn. When you notice its calls during spring and fall migration, make sure to look through tree branches. 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. At feeders, Carolina Chickadees grab a seed and carry it off to eat on a more secluded branch.

Get Involved

Download instructions for attracting nesting chickadees and building a nest box. Report information about nesting activity to NestWatch.

Keep track of Carolina Chickadees at your feeder with Project FeederWatch

View and sort images of nesting Carolina Chickadees online with CamClickr to help scientists archive data from our NestCams

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Carolina Chickadee: Kissing cousins (Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center)

Audubon at Home Birds to Help: Carolina Chickadee

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