Living Bird Magazine
Chestnut-backed ChickadeePoecile rufescens
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Paridae
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.More ID Info
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.
- Carbonero Dorsicastaño (Spanish)
- Mésange à dos marron (French)
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.
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.
- Cool Facts
- The Chestnut-backed Chickadee uses lots of fur in making its nest, with fur or hair accounting for up to half the material in the hole. Rabbit, coyote, and deer hair are most common, but hair from skunks, cats, horses, or cows appears in nests as well. The adults make a layer of fur about a half-inch thick that they use to cover the eggs when they leave the nest.
- Hole-nesting birds tend to have higher nest success rates than open-cup nesters, but that doesn't mean that they are immune to predation. Chestnut-backed Chickadee nests get attacked by predators including mice, squirrels, weasels, snakes, and black bears.
- The Chestnut-backed Chickadee is not truly migratory, but it does make some seasonal movements. In late summer some birds move higher into the mountains. They move back to lower elevations when winter starts, particularly after heavy snowfalls.
- The oldest recorded Chestnut-backed Chickadee was 9 years, 6 months old when it was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in California in 2001. It had been banded in the same state in 1992.