Black-capped Chickadee Life History

Habitat

Habitat ForestsChickadees are found in deciduous and mixed forests, open woods, parks, willow thickets, cottonwood groves, and disturbed areas.Back to top

Food

Food InsectsIn winter Black-capped Chickadees eat about half seeds, berries, and other plant matter, and half animal food (insects, spiders, suet, and sometimes fat and bits of meat from frozen carcasses). In spring, summer, and fall, insects, spiders, and other animal food make up 80-90 percent of their diet. At feeders they take mostly sunflower seeds, peanuts, suet, peanut butter, and mealworms. They peck a hole in the shell, and then chip out and eat tiny bits of seed while expanding the hole.Back to top

Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest CavityNest boxes, small natural cavities, or abandoned Downy Woodpecker cavities; often excavate their own cavities. In the case of next boxes, seem to prefer to excavate wood shavings or sawdust rather than to take an empty box. Nests can be at ground level to more than 20 m high, but are usually between 1.5 and 7 m high. They tend to excavate in dead snags or rotten branches, and often select alder or birch.

Nest Description

Both male and female chickadees excavate a cavity in a site usually selected by the female. Once the nest chamber is hollowed out (it averages 21 cm deep) the female builds the cup-shaped nest hidden within, using moss and other coarse material for the foundation and lining it with softer material such as rabbit fur.

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size:1-13 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:0.6 in (1.5 cm)
Egg Width:0.5 in (1.2 cm)
Incubation Period:12-13 days
Nestling Period:12-16 days
Egg Description:White with fine reddish-brown dots or spots.
Condition at Hatching:Eyes closed, naked except for 6 small patches of mouse-gray downy feathers on the back and head.
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Behavior

Behavior Foliage GleanerChickadees are active, acrobatic, curious, social birds that live in flocks, often associating with woodpeckers, nuthatches, warblers, vireos, and other small woodland species. They feed on insects and seeds, but seldom perch within several feet of one another while taking food or eating. Flocks have many calls with specific meanings, and they may contain some of the characteristics of human language.Back to top

Conservation

Conservation Low ConcernBlack-capped Chickadees are common and overall populations increased slightly between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Their western populations slightly declined during this time, but the loss was made up by an increase in eastern populations. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 41 million, with 54% living in Canada, and 46% in the U.S. The species rates a 7 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and is not on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List. Forest clearing for agriculture or development can increase the amount of forest edge, which can improve habitat for chickadees, and this species also benefits from people who keep bird feeders. As with many birds that nest in tree cavities, chickadees can suffer if land managers cut too many dead trees out of forests.Back to top

Backyard Tips

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 out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.

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.

Bird-friendly Winter Gardens, Birdsleuth, 2016.

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Credits

Foote, Jennifer R., Daniel J. Mennill, Laurene M. Ratcliffe and Susan M. Smith. 2010. Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2015.2. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2015.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski, Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, USA.

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