Living Bird Magazine
Black-capped ChickadeePoecile atricapillus
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Paridae
A bird almost universally considered “cute” thanks to its oversized round head, tiny body, and curiosity about everything, including humans. The chickadee’s black cap and bib; white cheeks; gray back, wings, and tail; and whitish underside with buffy sides are distinctive. Its habit of investigating people and everything else in its home territory, and quickness to discover bird feeders, make it one of the first birds most people learn.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Within their range, Black-capped chickadees are easily seen at many feeding stations, and in virtually any area with trees. They are often heard before they’re seen. They’re frequently attracted to investigate birders making pishing sounds. Once you’ve learned this bird’s calls, listen for them and then look for the flocks they travel in. Warblers and other migrating songbirds associate with chickadees, and by looking through the chickadees you’re more likely to find these other species as well.
- Carbonero Cabecinegro (Spanish)
- Mésange à tête noire (French)
Chickadees are one of the easiest birds to attract to feeders, for suet, sunflower, and peanuts. They don’t mind using tiny hanging feeders that swing in the wind, and also readily visit window feeders. Planting willow, alder, and birch trees provides future nesting habitat for chickadees. 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.
Feeders and nest boxes are often used by chickadees; 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. Black-capped Chickadees are especially attracted to a box when it is filled with sawdust or wood shavings. To keep wrens out of boxes you want chickadees to nest in, place nest boxes at least 60 feet into a wooded area. The compass orientation of the entrance hole probably does not matter at all, but chickadees do seem to prefer an unobstructed path to the entrance hole, without branches and leaves in the way. Setting a nest box farther back from other trees and branches can help deter squirrels and mice from jumping to the box and eating chickadee eggs and nestlings. 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.
Bird-friendly Winter Gardens, Birdsleuth, 2016.
- Cool Facts
- The Black-capped Chickadee hides seeds and other food items to eat later. Each item is placed in a different spot and the chickadee can remember thousands of hiding places.
- Every autumn Black-capped Chickadees allow brain neurons containing old information to die, replacing them with new neurons so they can adapt to changes in their social flocks and environment even with their tiny brains.
- Chickadee calls are complex and language-like, communicating information on identity and recognition of other flocks as well as predator alarms and contact calls. The more dee notes in a chickadee-dee-dee call, the higher the threat level.
- Winter flocks with chickadees serving as the nucleus contain mated chickadee pairs and nonbreeders, but generally not the offspring of the adult pairs within that flock. Other species that associate with chickadee flocks include nuthatches, woodpeckers, kinglets, creepers, warblers and vireos.
- Most birds that associate with chickadee flocks respond to chickadee alarm calls, even when their own species doesn’t have a similar alarm call.
- There is a dominance hierarchy within flocks. Some birds are “winter floaters” that don’t belong to a single flock—these individuals may have a different rank within each flock they spend time in.
- Even when temperatures are far below zero, chickadees virtually always sleep in their own individual cavities. In rotten wood, they can excavate nesting and roosting holes entirely on their own.
- Because small songbirds migrating through an unfamiliar area often associate with chickadee flocks, watching and listening for chickadee flocks during spring and fall can often alert birders to the presence of interesting migrants.
- The oldest known wild Black-capped Chickadee was a male and at least 11 years, 6 months old when it was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in Minnesota in 2011. It had been banded in the same state in 2002.