Backyard Birds 101; Black-Capped Chickadee

Backyard Birds 101; Black-Capped Chickadee

May 24, '20

Article and Photos By: Evan Glynn

If you are interested in learning more about the birds in your area, having some basic bird feeders will help attract some of the local birds to your yard for closer viewing. One of the most common feeder birds that we have year-round in our area is the black-capped chickadee.

Black-capped chickadees are small birds with short little bills. They have (you guessed it) black caps, and black bibs. These black areas contrast with bright white cheeks. They have gray backs and buffy underparts.

Black-capped chickadees live across the northern US and Canada. They are abundant in their habitat of deciduous woods, and are common in neighborhoods, parks, and open wooded areas. These are active, curious, social birds that are usually in small flocks with additional chickadees and other ‘backyard’ birds. They are also incredibly bold, and can be hand-fed by patient individuals. They nest in tree cavities, and will also use nest boxes.

Their song is heard most frequently in late winter and early spring, but can be heard year-round. They sing a 2-3 note whistled song that sounds like “fee-bee” or “hey sweetie” with the second note being lower pitch than the first. They also make a series of vocalizations for which the species is named –the “chickadee-dee-dee” calls. These are generally given when they are alarmed or for social hierarchy (pecking order) determination. Chickadee vocalizations have been studied for years and are incredibly complex. These vocalizations are used for numerous types of communication between pairs, between neighboring birds, winter groups, mixed flocks, etc. Studies have found that more “dee” notes at the end of a “chickadee” call indicates a higher alarm level.

Chickadees will feed from a number of different feeders and will eat many different foods. Any tube or platform feeder with mixed seeds or black oil sunflower seed should attract chickadees shortly after being installed.

The ‘chickadee’ is also the State Bird of Maine, however no specific determination has been made between black-capped chickadee and boreal chickadee (which exists in smaller numbers in northern Maine). While there is debate frequently with arguments in favor for both species to become the ‘Official State Bird’, most recently it was ultimately left at the more ambiguous ‘chickadee’.

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