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    Carolina Chickadee Life History

    Habitat

    Habitat 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

    Food

    Food 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

    Nesting

    Nest Placement

    Nest 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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    Behavior

    Behavior 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

    Conservation

    Conservation Low ConcernCarolina Chickadees are common across their range, but populations declined by 17% between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 12 million, with 100% living in the U.S. The species rates a 9 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Carolina Chickadee is not on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List.Back to top

    Backyard Tips

    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.

    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. 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.

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    Credits

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

    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. 2017. Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

    Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, Jr. Ziolkowski, D. J., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon and W. A. Link. The North American breeding bird survey, results and analysis 1966-2015 (Version 2.07.2017). USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center 2017.

    Sibley, David Allen. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A Knopf, New York.

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