Merlin Bird Graphic

Merlin Bird ID

Try our free app foriOS | AndroidWeb version coming soon!
Recently Viewed Species

    Chestnut-backed Chickadee Life History


    Habitat ForestsChestnut-backed Chickadees live mainly in dense, wet coniferous forests along the Pacific Coast, including Douglas-firs; Monterey, ponderosa, or sugar pines; white firs, incense-cedar; and redwoods. They also occur in some deciduous forests, particularly willow and alder stands along streams, eucalyptus groves, open patches of madrone and shrubs, and sometimes along the edges of oak woodlands. They’re also commonly seen at backyard feeders in urban, suburban, and rural areas where extensive trees and shrubs are present.Back to top


    Food InsectsChestnut-backed Chickadees eat about 65 percent insects and other arthropods, including spiders, caterpillars, leafhoppers, tiny scale insects, wasps, and aphids, feeding their young mainly caterpillars and wasp larvae. To a lesser extent they also eat seeds, berries and fruit pulp.Back to top


    Nest Placement

    Nest CavityMales take the first step in choosing nest sites, approaching a possible location while the female watches. Later, the female decides on the site, enters the cavity, and accepts pieces of vegetation brought by the male. Nest sites can be holes in rotted trees, stumps, and posts soft enough for the chickadees to excavate themselves, or old woodpecker holes. These nests are commonly 1-12 feet off the ground. Chestnut-backed Chickadees also readily use nest boxes.

    Nest Description

    The female builds the nest on her own. She makes a bottom layer or foundation of moss and strips of bark, particularly incense cedar when it’s available. The nest’s upper layer consists of animal fur woven with strips of bark, grass, feathers, and sometimes textile fibers. Among the kinds of fur found in these nests are rabbit, coyote, deer, skunk, cats, horses, and cattle. Adults also use fur to make a thin, warm flap to cover eggs when they leave the nest. Nest building takes 7-8 days, and the finished product can be quite variable in size: from about 1 inch to 6 inches tall.

    Nesting Facts
    Clutch Size:1-11 eggs
    Number of Broods:1-2 broods
    Egg Length:0.6-0.7 in (1.4-1.7 cm)
    Egg Width:0.4-0.5 in (1.1-1.3 cm)
    Incubation Period:12-18 days
    Nestling Period:18-21 days
    Egg Description:White with reddish to light-brown spots.
    Condition at Hatching:Naked except for sparse tufts of down, eyes closed, clumsy.
    Back to top


    Behavior Foliage GleanerChestnut-backed Chickadees hop through trees and shrubs, often starting low down and working their way up to the top, then dropping low into a nearby tree. They pick insects and seeds from bark and twigs, sometimes hovering to reach items, or darting out to catch insects like a flycatcher or redstart. Many Chestnut-backed Chickadee pairs stay together for a year or less; a smaller number stay together for 2 to 4 years. Chestnut-backed Chickadees often form flocks with other species in winter. Where Chestnut-backed and Mountain chickadee ranges overlap, you’ll frequently find both species in a single flock, along with Red-breasted Nuthatches, Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned kinglets, and Brown Creepers. During winter, they travel together in search of food. Flight can be direct, but is most often slightly undulating as is common in most chickadees.Back to top


    Conservation DecliningChestnut-backed Chickadees are common across their range but populations declined by about 56% between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 9.7 million, with 64% living in the U.S. and 36% in Canada. This is a U.S.-Canada Stewardship species. It rates a 12 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Chestnut-backed Chickadee is not on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List. Chestnut-backed Chickadees nest in holes in dead limbs and trees, so forest management practices that remove these elements from a forest can make it harder for these birds to find nest sites.Back to top

    Backyard Tips

    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.

    Back to top


    Dahlsten, Donald L., Leonard A. Brennan, D. Archibald McCallum and Sandra L. Gaunt. 2002. Chestnut-backed Chickadee (Poecile rufescens), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

    Dunne, Pete. 2006. Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

    Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder's handbook. A Field Guide to the natural history of North American birds, including all species that regularly breed north of Mexico. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc.

    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, 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.

    Back to top