Black-capped Chickadee

Common Name: Black-capped Chickadee

Class:  Aves

Order: Passeriformes

Family: Paridae

Genus: Poecile

Species: Poecile atricapilla

 


photo Ivan Andrijevic

Taxonomy/Description

The Black-capped Chickadee is a small bird, no bigger than 6 inches, with a small black bill.  It has a pale whitish chest with buffy flanks.  Like the other Chickadee’s of the east, it has white cheeks and a black bib.  To distinguish the Black-capped Chickadee from the Boreal Chickadee, note its black cap and grayish wings and back (the Boreal Chickadee has a brown cap and brown wings). 
 


photo Ivan Andrijevic

However, the Carolina Chickadee also displays a black cap and grayish back, so the larger wing bars of the Black-capped Chickadee must be seen.  Otherwise, locality and voice may be used to distinguish the two. They can be distinguished from all other Chickadees by range alone.

Habitat/Diet

The Black-capped Chickadee’s range stretches the Northern half of the United States from coast to coast, as well as almost all of Canada.  They live in these areas year round.  The Black-capped Chickadee has developed incredible adaptations to survive the cold winters in these areas.  This includes the ability to lower their body temperature to save energy, and hiding food with the capability of finding it later on thanks to a great memory.


photo Ivan Andrijevic

In the winter months, half of the Black-capped Chickadee’s food is made up of insects, spiders, and other animal material.  The other half of their food at this time is plant material, like seeds and berries.  During the summer, around 90% of their diet is made up of animal, mostly caterpillars, but also spiders, snails, slugs, and other insects.  The other 10% is mostly berries, like honeysuckle, blackberries, and blueberries. 

Behavior/Reproduction

The Black-capped Chickadee is seldom territorial towards other species and will set up breeding territories with mate in spring.  Mating pairs usually have boundaries set 5 to 7 weeks before egg laying begins.  In winter, Black-capped Chickadees form flocks and a dominance hierarchy is developed within each flock.  Males usually rank above females, as older birds rank above younger.  At times, non-breeding flocks can include other species, especially other parids where the range occurs.  Pair bonds between Chickadees will usually last for years before divorce or fatality breaks them.  Eggs are usually laid within a day of nest completion.  The building of the nest, as well as incubation of the eggs, is done entirely by the female. 

Where to see them in WNY

Black Capped Chickadees can be found in mixed woodland areas, especially on the edges of these areas.  They nest in cavities, like old woodpecker holes, and can often be found in snags or rotten branches.  They will also come to feeders to eat suet or sunflower seeds. 

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