black capped chickadee

Black-capped Chickadees

Black-capped Chickadees are small, cute, active birds that visit bird feeders in the neighborhood and also forage in thickets and low branches of trees.  

They have a distinctive black head, gray back and pale belly. They are year-round residents of the Willow Spring Open Space and the neighborhoods around it.

They are in the Passeriformes Order, or passerines, which includes perching birds and songbirds. Birds in this order have a toe structure that is well-adapted to perching by being 3 toes facing forward and 1 toe facing backwards on each foot.

How to Recognize a Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadees are about 4 3/4″ to 5 3/4″ long with a black cap and chin. Their cheeks are white, their breast and belly are pale buff, and their wings and back are mostly gray. They have a short, small, black bill and a long tail.

Their song is “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” and their call is a two descending notes whistled call of fee-bee, or “sweetheart”.

They are in the Paridae family, which includes several species of chickadees and titmice. The closest species here is the Mountain Chickadee, which has a white eyebrow and a call of three descending notes.

Black-capped Chickadee in shrub branches
Black-capped Chickadee – note the solid black helmet
Mountain chickadee with white eyebrow
Mountain chickadee – Note the white “eyebrow”

Through the Seasons – mating, nesting

In the fall, Black-capped Chickadees form pairs and they remain together as part of a winter flock. The flocks break up in in late winter and both members of the pair help defend their nesting territory.

Black-capped Chickadees generally make a nest in a hole in a tree about 4-10 feet above ground, although sometimes in an old woodpecker hole or nesting box. They make a new nest each year.

Both male and female excavate the hole in the tree, and the female lines the nest with soft material such as moss, animal hair or feathers.

The female lays about 6-8 tiny eggs which are about 1/2″ long. She incubates them for 12-13 days, and they leave the nest when they are just over two weeks old!

In the winter, Black-capped Chickadees have a number of adaptations they use to survive the cold. They can lower their body temperature at night so that they use less energy, and they can squeeze into tree hollows with other birds, in groups of up to 50 birds if the hollow is a large one.

Black-capped Chickadees eat mostly insects along with some seeds and berries in the Spring, Summer and Fall, and eat an equal amount of insects, seeds, berries and fat in the winter.

Where to find in Willow Spring Open Space

They are often seen flitting among the trees along the walking path and frequently heard calling from the trees in the neighborhood, while walking down to the Open Space.

Did You Know?

Black-capped Chickadees can feed while hanging upside down! This helps them get at more seeds and berries. Also, when food is plentiful, they cache their food in trees throughout the territory and have a remarkable memory for finding the food they have hidden.

References and Further Reading

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