Black-Capped Chickadee and Carolina Chickadee

Black-Capped Chickadee

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Black-capped Chickadee

photo of Blacked-capped Chickadee
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Carolina Chickadee

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Poecile atricapillus and P. carolinensis
Paridae (titmice) in the order Passeriformes

Two species live in our state and are sometimes hard to tell apart. In both, adults have gray upperparts, with a black cap and white cheeks. Underparts are white, the sides buffy, the throat and upper breast black.

Black-capped chickadee (generally northern Missouri): from midwinter to spring, wing coverts and some secondaries are edged in white. The lower edge of the black bib may appear ragged. Song is a 2- or 3-syllable phrase with the first note slightly higher than the second: “fee-bee” or “fee-bee-bee.” Call is a slow “chick-a-dee-dee-dee.”

Carolina chickadee (generally southern Missouri): the wing coverts are gray, not white. The lower edge of the black bib is more sharply defined than in the black-capped chickadee, and sides and flanks of winter adults are gray, much less buffy, as well. Song is a 4-note phrase with the first and third notes higher than the second and fourth: “fee-bee fee-bay.” The “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” call is noticeably faster than the black-capped’s.

Length: 5 1/4 inches (black-capped); 4 3/4 inches (Carolina).
Habitat and conservation: 
Common permanent residents in forests, woodlands, forest edges, parks and most areas with trees with decaying sections where nesting cavities can be excavated. They are a common and distinctive backyard bird, one of the first types that people learn to identify.
Forage for insects, spiders, seeds, acorns and berries. They are commonly seen at birdfeeders and suet.
Distribution in Missouri: 
Black-capped: generally northern Missouri, occasionally moving southward in winter. Carolina: generally southern Missouri and seldom wander north of their range. Where the ranges overlap, the birds sometimes hybridize and sing intermediate songs.
Common permanent resident.
Life cycle: 
There is one brood a year. Nest cavities about 8 inches deep are excavated by male and female in rotting trees, or in bird boxes or old woodpecker cavities. The female builds the cup-shaped nest, lined with soft animal hair and plant fibers, on a foundation of coarser materials. Eggs are incubated for usually less than two weeks before hatching, and in another two weeks the young are fledged. In winter, chickadees travel in flocks with other species.
Human connections: 
The tiny, perky chickadees, with their bright voices and dapper black-and-white heads, delight humans with their energetic presence at backyard feeders—even on the coldest of winter days. Aldo Leopold said of the chickadee: “Everyone laughs at so small a bundle of large enthusiasms.”
Ecosystem connections: 
Chickadees join with other species, such as titmice, nuthatches and woodpeckers, in winter foraging flocks, using their tweezerlike bills to pick insect and spider eggs and pupae from crevices in tree bark. Chickadees and their eggs and young are preyed upon by other predators.
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