• Skip to Content
  • Skip to Main Navigation
  • Skip to Local Navigation
  • Skip to Search
  • Skip to Sitemap
  • Skip to Footer
Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Mountain Chickadee

Poecile gambeli ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: PARIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Mountain Chickadee Photo

The tiny Mountain Chickadee is a busy presence overhead in the dry evergreen forests of the mountainous West. Often the nucleus in mixed flocks of small birds, Mountain Chickadees flit through high branches, hang upside down to pluck insects or seeds from cones, and give their scolding chick-a-dee call seemingly to anyone who will listen.

eBird, submit your observations
Drink Birds & Beans coffee. Save our birds.

Keys to identification Help

Chickadees
Chickadees
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Tiny, large-headed but small-billed, with a long, narrow tail and full, rounded wings.

  • Color Pattern

    Like all chickadees, strikingly black-and-white on the head, gray elsewhere. The white stripe over the eye identifies Mountain Chickadees from all other chickadees.

  • Behavior

    Active and acrobatic, clinging to small limbs and twigs or hanging upside down from pine cones. In winter, Mountain Chickadees flock with kinglets and nuthatches, with birds following each other one by one from tree to tree.

  • Habitat

    Dry, mountainous forests of the West. The similar Black-capped Chickadee often occurs along streams and in broad-leaved trees, while Mountain Chickadees stick to the evergreens on higher slopes.

Range Map Help

Mountain Chickadee Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    Mountain Chickadee

    Adult
    • Black cap and throat
    • White cheek and eyebrow
    • Gray above, pale gray below
    • © Robinsegg, Salt Lake City, Utah, January 2008
  • Adult

    Mountain Chickadee

    Adult
    • Black cap and throat
    • Bright white eyebrow (duller in spring and summer)
    • Relatively long tail
    • Short, thin, black bill
    • © Jason Pietrzak
  • Adult

    Mountain Chickadee

    Adult
    • Black cap and throat
    • White cheek and eyebrow
    • Gray above, pale gray below
    • © Michael Woodruff
  • Adult

    Mountain Chickadee

    Adult
    • White eyebrow can be distinct or indistinct
    • © Chuq Von Rospach, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
  • Adult

    Mountain Chickadee

    Adult
    • White cheek and eyebrow
    • Black cap and throat
    • Plain gray back and wings
    • © Daniel Hunt
  • Adult

    Mountain Chickadee

    Adult
    • Pale underparts
    • © nps.chickadee, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, September 2008
  • Adult

    Mountain Chickadee

    Adult
    • Black cap and throat
    • White cheek and eyebrow
    • Gray above, pale gray below
    • © katnor1, Oregon, January 2009

Similar Species

  • Adult

    Black-capped Chickadee

    Adult
    • Ranges overlap in western U.S. and western Canada
    • No white eyebrow on black cap
    • Browner overall, usually with orangish buff sides
    • Whitish edging on wings
    • © Jerry Acton
  • Adult

    Boreal Chickadee

    Adult
    • Occurs only in extreme northern U.S. and Canada
    • Brown cap, darker eyeline, no white eyebrow
    • Gray nape (white cheek not as prominent)
    • Brown back, rusty sides
    • © Laura Erickson, Minnesota, January 2009
  • Adult

    Boreal Chickadee

    Adult
    • Occurs only in extreme northern U.S. and Canada
    • Brown cap, darker eyeline, no white eyebrow
    • Gray nape (white cheek not as prominent)
    • Brown back, rusty sides
    • © Gerry Dewaghe, Manitoba, Canada, June 2007
  • Adult

    Bridled Titmouse

    Adult
    • Ranges overlap only in Arizona and southwestern New Mexico
    • Distinct dark face pattern on white face, black throat
    • Dark gray or black crest
    • Dark gray back, pale underparts
    • © cl_cochran, Arizona, November 2008
  • Adults

    Bushtit

    Adults
    • Plain gray overall (may have black earpatch)
    • Large head, tiny bill
    • Plain gray head (may have black earpatch)
    • Pale throat
    • © birdmandea, Steilacoom, Washington, January 2009
  • Adult

    Chestnut-backed Chickadee

    Adult
    • Ranges overlap along Pacific coast and Pacific Northwest
    • No white eyebrow on dark cap
    • Deep chestnut back and flanks
    • © BirdieMama, California, October 2007

Similar Species

Look for the Mountain Chickadee's sharp white eyestripe to tell this species from all other chickadees. It has much less white edging on the wing feathers than a Black-capped Chickadee. Bridled Titmouse of the Southwest has a striped head, but it has a crest, too, which the Mountain Chickadee lacks. Carolina and Mexican chickadees don't overlap in range with Mountain Chickadees.

Regional Differences

Mountain Chickadees of the Rocky Mountains tend to have short, blunt bills and buffy flanks. In the Great Basin the bill is longer, thinner, and more pointed. Birds in the Sierra Nevada and Cascades have the largest bills, and their flanks match their back color.

Backyard Tips

Mountain Chickadees eagerly come to feeders. Like many feeder birds, they will often disregard millet in bird seed mixes. Feed them black oil sunflower seeds instead. In winter, they’ll also eat suet and peanut butter.

Our guidelines for feeding birds in your yard (and more tips)

Find This Bird

Turn onto a Forest Service road and take it up into the mountains to your favorite trailhead. Within a few minutes of getting out of your car, you'll likely run into a flock of small birds flitting through the treetop. Mountain Chickadees are likely to be among them.

Get Involved

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

Visit our section on how to set up a bird feeder. Watch birds at your feeder in winter and report your counts to Project FeederWatch.

You Might Also Like

Distinguishing Chickadees: Refresh your chickadee identification skills

Explore our Attracting Birds section for tips on setting up feeders and providing a welcoming habitat for birds

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

The FeederWatcher's Guide to Bird Feeding

Birds at Your Feeder