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Chestnut-backed Chickadee


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Chestnut-backed Chickadee Photo

A handsome chickadee that matches the rich brown bark of the coastal trees it lives among, the Chestnut-backed Chickadee is the species to look for up and down the West Coast and in the Pacific Northwest. Active, sociable, and noisy as any chickadee, you’ll find these birds at the heart of foraging flocks moving through tall conifers with titmice, nuthatches, and sometimes other chickadee species. Though they’re at home in dark, wet woods, they’ve also readily taken to suburbs and ornamental shrubs of cities like San Francisco.

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Chestnut-backed Chickadees don’t have the clear-whistled fee-bee song that most other chickadees use. Instead it has a song, given rarely, that consists of a series of “gargle” calls.


The main call of the Chestnut-backed Chickadee is a high, thin, scratchy chick-a-dee, 1-1.5 seconds long. The number of dee notes is variable, but typically fewer than in the Black-capped Chickadee’s call. The Chestnut-backed Chickadee’s other common call is the gargle, a jumble of short clicks often dropping in pitch and ending on a longer note. The whole call lasts about a second. It’s typically used to defend territories or to signal aggression by birds in a flock.

Other Sounds

Incubating adults and near-to-fledging nestlings hiss at intruders to the nest, accompanying this snake-like sound with a sharp slap of the wing against the walls of the nest cavity.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

This species often comes to bird feeders. Set up bird feeders in your backyard with black oil sunflower seed, suet or other mixed seeds. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.

If Chestnut-backed Chickadees inhabit your area, setting up nest boxes might entice them to nest on your property. 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

Look for Chestnut-backed Chickadees high in the branches of coastal conifers, or lower down in shrubs around yards and park borders. When searching for Chestnut-backed Chickadees in winter, listen for its conspicuous chick-a-dee and other call notes, a great way to find this bird and the several other species that habitually forage with them.

Get Involved

Keep track of Chestnut-backed Chickadees at your feeder with Project FeederWatch

Use our nest-box plans and tips to attract nesting chickadees. Report information about nesting activity to NestWatch.

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Explore audio recordings of Chestnut-backed Chickadees from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Macaulay Library archive

Find in-depth information on Chestnut-backed Chickadees and other hundreds of other birds for as little as $5 in The Birds of North America Online from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and American Ornithologists' Union.