Black-Capped Chickadee

P. atricapillus

Last updated: May 23, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Image Credit J.A. Dunbar/Shutterstock.com

Black-capped chickadees weigh less than half an ounce!

Black-Capped Chickadee Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Passeriformes
Family
Paridae
Genus
Poecile
Scientific Name
P. atricapillus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Black-Capped Chickadee Conservation Status

Black-Capped Chickadee Locations

Black-Capped Chickadee Locations

Black-Capped Chickadee Facts

Prey
Insects
Main Prey
Insects
Name Of Young
Hatchling, chick, or fledgling, depending on their stage of development
Group Behavior
  • Sociable
  • Flock
Fun Fact
Black-capped chickadees weigh less than half an ounce!
Estimated Population Size
41 million
Biggest Threat
Habitat distruction
Most Distinctive Feature
Striking color pattern
Other Name(s)
Chickadee
Wingspan
6 - 8 inches
Habitat
Forests of deciduous and coniferous trees, gardens, parks, and backyards
Diet
Omnivore
Favorite Food
Insects, berries, and seeds
Type
North America
Common Name
Black-Capped Chickadee
Nesting Location
Tree cavities, birdhouses
Age of Molting
14 - 18 days

Black-Capped Chickadee Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Grey
  • Black
  • White
Skin Type
Feathers
Lifespan
3 - 11.5 years
Weight
0.36 ounces
Height
4 - 6 inches
Length
4.75 - 5.5 inches

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Summary

The Black-Capped Chickadee is a popular and easily recognizable North American songbird.

These birds travel together in small flocks, using their calls to signal where food can be found, the presence of danger, and “all clear” signals. Many other small songbirds, such as warblers, nuthatches, and titmice, travel with chickadees in order to benefit from their vigilance and warnings. Chickadees are considered to be friendly birds, getting along well with other small songbirds and showing little fear of humans.

Black Capped Chickadee Amazing Facts

  1. The Black-Capped Chickadee is almost identical to the Carolina Chickadee. They can be differentiated by their range and the white markings on their wings.
  2. The Chickadee’s call is an onomatopoeia of its name: chickadee-dee-dee-dee-dee.
  3. Black-Capped Chickadees work together to help each other find food and to warn one another of danger.
  4. Black-Capped Chickadees are easily recognizable because of their striking black and white markings, making them a favorite for beginning birdwatchers.

Where To Find Black-Capped Chickadees

Black-Capped Chickadees are native to North America. Their range stretches north to Alaska and Canada, south to New Mexico, west to California, and east to New York.

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Since Black-Capped Chickadees do not migrate, they can be observed in these areas during winter, spring, summer, and fall.

The best place to view these birds is at a backyard bird feeder. They can also be seen flitting between tree branches or shrubbery.

Black-Capped Chickadee Nests

Black-Capped Chickadees nest in tree hollows or birdhouses with small openings, located 1 to 10 feet off the ground. They build the cup-shaped nest from loosely woven feathers, moss, grasses, and other plant fibers.



Scientific Name

The Black-capped Chickadee is classified under the Latin name Parus atricapillus in most reference guides. This name was given in 1760. Occasionally, the alternate scientific name Poecile atricapillus appears, assigning the bird to a different genus. This alteration in relationships to other, similar birds has been proposed due to DNA research. Either way, it is recognized by the shortened form P. atricapillus. It belongs to the class Aves (birds), the order Passeriformes, and the family Paridae.

Black-Capped Chickadee Appearance

The Black-Capped Chickadee is a small bird, weighing less than half an ounce. It is less than 6 inches in length and has a wingspan of 6 to 8 inches.

The Black-Capped Chickadee is named for its striking color pattern. It has a black head and neck, with white patches on the sides of the face. Its back, wings, and tail are gray with black and white markings. Its belly is white with reddish-brown patches near the wings. Males and females display the same markings.

A Black-Capped Chickadee sings on a flower-covered branch
Black-capped chickadees are extremely light in weight, averaging half an ounce.

Rob Palmer Photography/Shutterstock.com

Behavior

Black-Capped Chickadees are social birds, often seen in male/female pairs or small flocks of up to 12 individuals. They may travel with small birds of other species as well.

Chickadees are highly communicative. While foraging together, they concentrate their efforts in locations where one flock member has found success.

They also look out for dangers, such as predators. When a potential threat is spotted, the bird utters a warning call. Its companions freeze and imitate the call, which may confuse the predator. When the danger has passed, the birds utter an “all clear” call.

Chickadees do not migrate.

Diet

Black-capped chickadees forage in small groups for insects, insect eggs and larvae, berries, and seeds. They frequent manmade seed feeders as well.

Predators and Threats

Hawks, owls, and cats are common hunters of chickadees. Snakes and raccoons may eat chickadee eggs.

The biggest threats to chickadees come from people. We use pesticides that may poison them through biomagnification. We have taken their habitat and built cities on it. It is estimated that the United States can only support large songbird populations because so many people maintain seed feeders.

The Black-Capped Chickadee is not an endangered species. It is listed as an animal of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Red List of Threatened Species.

Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

Black-Capped Chickadees lay 5 to 10 eggs each spring. The eggs hatch after 11 to 13 days of incubation. The young birds molt in less than 2 weeks and leave the nest 14 to 18 days after hatching.

In the wild, chickadees usually live less than 3 years. The oldest known chickadee was a male who lived 11.5 years.

Population

The Black-Capped Chickadee population is estimated at 41 million individuals, with regional population increases over the past few years.

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Black-Capped Chickadee FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Do Black-Capped Chickadees migrate?

No, these birds live in their home range year-round.

How many eggs do Black-Capped Chickadees lay?

They lay 5 to 10 eggs at a time.

How fast do Black-Capped Chickadees fly?

They can reach speeds of 12 to 13 mph.

What is the Black-Capped Chickadee’s wingspan?

They have a wingspan of 6 to 8 inches.

When do Black-Capped Chickadees leave the nest?

They do so 14 to 18 days after hatching.

Are Black-Capped Chickadees friendly?

Yes, Black-Capped Chickadees are extremely friendly! They are one of the most common feeder birds in much of North America. They will readily come to your yard if you offer birdseed from a seed feeder. If you spend time outdoors, they will soon become acclimated to your presence, coming to the feeder even when you are quite close.

Why are Black-Capped Chickadees so friendly?

Chickadees are friendly because they have effective strategies for avoiding danger. Chickadees typically forage in flocks of eight to twelve individuals. If one bird spots danger, it sounds a warning call so that all in the group can fly away to safety.

What is the difference between a Black-Capped Chickadee and a Junco?

Black-capped Chickadees and juncos are similarly shaped small birds. They are readily found around backyard bird feeders across North America.

Juncos, however, are separate species from the Black-capped Chickadee. Though their appearances vary, they can easily be distinguished from the chickadee bird. The dark-eyed junco, Junco hymalis, has three distinct types – the Oregon junco, with a reddish body and dark head; gray-headed junco, with a light gray head and Chesnut back; and the slate-colored junco, with a dark gray back and lighter belly. The yellow-eyed junco, Junco phaenotus, has a grey head, light underbelly, and reddish markings on the wings.

What is the difference between a Black-Capped Chickadee and a Carolina Chickadee?

These songbirds are so similar in appearance that many bird books list them under a single entry. However, the Carolina Chickadee has its own scientific name – Parus carolinensis.

When you see a chickadee in your backyard, which type is it? Black-capped Chickadees have a narrow white edge on the feathers at the bend of the wing, while the Carolina Chickadee lacks this mark.

The easiest way to determine which chickadee you see is by where you live. Black-capped Chickadees have a northern year-round range, spanning from Canada to the middle of the United States.

Carolina Chickadees are located in the Southeastern United States, from just below the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast, and from Texas to the Eastern seaboard.

What do you feed a black-capped chickadee?

Chickadees are attracted to feeders offering standard bird seed mixes, containing grains such as millet, sunflower seed, cracked corn, and dried fruits. In winter, they will also eat from suet cakes – birdseed held together by protein-rich animal fats.

Sources
  1. (1970) Cassidy, James, ed. Book of North American Birds. Reader's Digest: Pleasantville, NY, 1990.
  2. (1970) Vanner, Michael. The Encyclopedia of North American Birds. Paragon Publishing: Bath, UK, 2003.
  3. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black-capped_chickadee

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