Mountain Chickadee Life History

Habitat

Habitat ForestsCommon across most of the evergreen forests of Western mountains, particularly pine, mixed conifer, spruce-fir, and pinyon-juniper forests. Mountain Chickadees use conifers heavily, typically leaving deciduous stands to the Black-capped Chickadee. The exception is in nesting, when Mountain Chickadees will seek out any available aspen trees for their soft, easily excavated wood.Back to top

Food

Food Insects

Mountain Chickadees eat protein-rich insects and spiders during warm months, supplementing them with seeds and nuts as available. They come to bird feeders year-round. Many kinds of insects are eaten, including beetles, caterpillars, wasp larvae, aphids, and leafhoppers, as well as hard-to-reach scale insects and fly larvae hidden in plant galls. In fall and winter, seeds of montane pine species are very important.

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Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest CavityMountain Chickadees nest in cavities but they can’t excavate them unless the wood is very soft. Instead, they rely on holes made by other birds such as small woodpeckers and nuthatches. They also nest in natural crevices, in nest boxes, and occasionally on the ground amid roots.

Nest Description

Inside the cavity the female makes a neat cup from fur she gathers. She also makes a fur plug or cap that she uses to cover her eggs when she leaves the cavity. In some cases chickadees compensate for large cavities by filling them several inches deep with insulating material.

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size:5-9 eggs
Number of Broods:1-2 broods
Egg Length:0.6 in (1.6 cm)
Egg Width:0.5 in (1.2 cm)
Incubation Period:12-15 days
Nestling Period:17-23 days
Egg Description:Flat white, sometimes speckled with red.
Condition at Hatching:Naked, eyes closed, with tufts of down on head and along spine.
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Behavior

Behavior Foliage GleanerLike other chickadees, Mountain Chickadees are quick, agile, curious birds that hop and flit through the outer twigs as they look for insects and seeds, often accompanied by several other species. As summer draws to a close, Mountain Chickadees band together into groups of up to three pairs of adults plus a variety of young birds. These juveniles have spent some time after fledging traveling in their own groups, but by September they typically join a group of adults and remain in that flock for the winter. In late winter, pairs begin to break away from foraging flocks to inspect possible nest sites. At feeders, chickadees have a distinct pecking order, with males typically forcing females aside except early in the breeding season. On cold, sunny mornings, Mountain Chickadees catch a little extra warmth by "sunbathing" on an exposed perch out of the wind. Unlike some other species, Mountain Chickadees typically brave the cold winter nights alone, huddled in foliage clumps or under big flakes of bark.Back to top

Conservation

Conservation Low ConcernMountain Chickadee populations declined by over 1.5% per year between 1966 and 2014, resulting in a cumulative loss of 53%, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 7.5 million with 80% living in the U.S., 19% in Canada, and 1% in Mexico. The species rates a 10 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Mountain Chickadee is not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. These birds are visitors to bird feeders and use birdhouses.Back to top

Backyard Tips

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.

Mountain Chickadees eagerly come to feeders. Like many feeder birds, they will often disregard millet in bird seed mixes. Feed them black oil sunflower seeds instead. In winter, they’ll also eat suet and peanut butter. 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.

See the Project FeederWatch guidelines for feeding birds in your yard and more tips on backyard birds.

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Credits

Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 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.

McCallum, D. Archibald, Ralph Grundel and Donald L. Dahlsten. 1999. Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

North American Bird Conservation Initiative. 2014. The State of the Birds 2014 Report. US Department of Interior, Washington, DC, USA.

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

Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, J. E. Fallon, K. L. Pardieck, Jr. Ziolkowski, D. J. and W. A. Link. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2013 (Version 1.30.15). USGS Patuxtent Wildlife Research Center 2014b. Available from http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/.

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

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