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Carolina Chickadee Life History


ForestsCarolina Chickadees may be found in deciduous and mixed deciduous-coniferous woodlands, swamps, riparian areas, open woods and parks, and also in suburban and urban areas.Back to top


InsectsIn winter, the Carolina Chickadee’s diet is about half plant, half animal. The rest of the year about 80–90 percent of their diet is animal (mostly insects and spiders). Carolina Chickadees glean insects from foliage and tree bark, often hanging upside down to do so. They hold seeds and insects in their feet, wedged against the branch they’re perched on, to peck into them. They readily use bird feeders. Back to top


Nest Placement

CavityCarolina Chickadees excavate or find an unused cavity, usually 2-25 feet up in a tree. When a territory is near a forest edge, half of all cavities used face the nearby clearing.

Nest Description

Both members of a pair excavate a cavity or choose a cavity or nest box. Carolina Chickadees don’t seem to have a preference for nest boxes filled with or without sawdust. The female builds the nest base with moss and sometimes strips of bark. Then she adds a thick lining of hair and/or plant fibers.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:3-10 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:0.6 in (1.5 cm)
Egg Width:0.4 in (1.1 cm)
Incubation Period:12-15 days
Nestling Period:16-19 days
Egg Description:White with fine dots to small blotches of reddish brown.
Condition at Hatching:Naked except wisps of down on head, wings, and rump.
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Foliage GleanerCarolina Chickadees associate in flocks during winter. Each flock member has a rank; once spring arrives, the highest ranking individuals will nest within the flock’s territory; lower ranking birds must travel farther to successfully claim a territory and many don’t nest that season. Throughout the year, members of pairs, families, and flocks communicate with one another constantly.

Nesting female Carolina Chickadees sleep in the nest cavity while males sleep in a nearby sheltered branch in a tree, vine, or shrub. The rest of the year, birds may sometimes sleep in sheltered branches; usually they sleep in cavities, some which they excavated, others which may be natural or excavated by woodpeckers. Carolina Chickadees sleep individually, but from night to night different members of a flock may sleep in the same cavity. They compete with Downy Woodpeckers, Brown Creepers, and Tufted Titmice for these cavities.

Carolina Chickadees actively defend an individual space, keeping at least 2.2 feet, and sometimes at least 5 feet, between individuals; when two are closer than that, the dominant bird may make gargle calls. At feeders, each bird typically takes a seed and carries it to a branch somewhat isolated from other chickadees to eat.

During migration and winter, other species associate with Carolina Chickadees, which are found with other species about 50 percent of the time. Tufted Titmice, which are dominant over them, are the most common flock associates. Black-capped Chickadees, Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned kinglets, Red-breasted, White-breasted and Brown-headed nuthatches, Brown Creepers, and Downy and Hairy woodpeckers tend to gravitate to these flocks, which are led by the Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, or both. Back to top


Low Concern

Carolina Chickadees are common across their range, but populations declined by approximately 16% between 1966 and 2019, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 13 million and rates them 10 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern.

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Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Mostrum, Alison M., Robert L. Curry and Bernard Lohr. (2002). Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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