Scientific Name: Poecile atricapillus
Black-capped chickadees are named for the “cap” of black feathers that covers the top of the head and extends just below the eyes. Their cheeks and chest are white, their wings gray edged in white, and their sides are beige.
Size: Adult black-capped chickadees are just 4 to 6 inches long with a 6 to 8 inch wingspan.
Diet: Like many birds, black-capped chickadees are omnivorous. They eat a diet of seeds, berries, insects, invertebrates, and occasionally small portions of carrion. Chickadees also love to eat suet and peanut butter offered at bird feeders. However, chickadees have a penchant for storing food and eating it later, so they usually won’t stick around at the feeder for long. Food items are placed in a number of different hidden locations, so chickadees must have excellent memories to keep track of their food.
Predation: Hawks, owls, and shrikes capture adult chickadees, but nestlings and eggs are in more danger of being consumed by tree-climbing mammals. A chickadee’s alarm call sounds just like its name. Chickadees warn their flocks of nearby predators like owls and hawks by sounding out “chickadee-dee-dee!”
Typical Lifespan: The average lifespan for black-capped chickadees is less than 2 to 3 years. The oldest on record was a male that lived for over 11.5 years.
Habitat: Black-capped chickadees are found in deciduous and mixed deciduous-evergreen forests, especially near forest edges. They are commonly found near willows and cottonwoods, and like to make their nests in snags of alder and birch. Feeders and nest boxes can be used to attract chickadees to suburban backyards.
Range: Black-capped chickadees are non-migratory. They are found year round from New England to the west coast. In the West, their range extends as far south as New Mexico. In the east, they follow the Appalachian Mountains south to Georgia. Canadian residents and Alaskans can observe black-capped chickadees near their homes as well.
Life History and Reproduction: Male and female chickadees excavate nest cavities in the soft, rotting wood of snags or build nests in abandoned woodpecker cavities. They also take readily to nest boxes filled with wood shavings. Females build the nest and fill it with 1 to 13 eggs. The male brings her food while she warms the eggs, and both parents take part in raising the young.
Fun Fact: Chickadees are social birds that live in flocks. To keep up with changes within the flock—and to remember food cache locations—chickadees are able to replace old neurons with new ones. This essentially wipes out old memories, and gives the birds more space to store new information.
Conservation Status: Black-capped chickadee numbers are increasing due to large amounts of forest edge habitat, as well as nesting and feeding opportunities in backyards.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Pennsylvania State University
IUCN Red List
US Geological Survey
Seattle Audubon Society Bird Web
Cornell Lab of Ornithology BirdScope
How Chickadees Weather Winter
The little black-capped birds that visit your yard during the cold months have evolved some remarkable adaptations to help them survive even the most frigid conditions
Help Birds Weather Winter
Fatty foods and fluffy feathers benefit cold birds, but they still can use our help