Vancouver Avian Research Centre

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Species: Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricapilla

Description:

The Black-capped Chickadee is one of the most familiar and widespread birds in North America. It ranges from coast to coast, including much of Canada and about the northern two thirds of the United States. Despite its vast range, this species is remarkably homogeneous in its genetic make-up. As Black-capped Chickadees are resident throughout their range, northern populations must withstand winters of short days and very cold temperatures. Under such conditions, they can lower their body temperature at night and enter regulated hypothermia, saving significant amounts of energy. In addition, they store food and have exceptional spatial memory to relocate it, even a month later.

Identification:

General: A common bird in the tit family Paridae the Black-capped Chickadee is one of the first birds most people learn due to their inquisitive nature and quickness to discover bird feeders. The chickadee’s black cap and bib; white cheeks; gray back, wings, and tail; and whitish underside with buffy sides are distinctive.

Length (12.3–14.6 cm) 5.25 inches; mass 10–14 g. Solid black cap and bib, white cheeks, unstreaked greenish gray back, buffy flanks and crissum, dark grayish wings and tail. Pale edgings on the wing coverts and flight feathers. Bill black; legs and toes bluish gray, iris dark brown. Wings rounded with 10 primaries. Tail long.

Adult Male: Sexes alike in plumage, with males slightly longer than females in wing and tail, and slightly heavier. Within sexes, adult wings longer than those of younger birds (and average lengths vary with subspecies).

Juvenile: Juvenal plumage essentially the same as adults in overall pattern, but somewhat looser in texture. Similar to adults, but cap duller and feathers softer and shorter.

Similar Species: Carolina Chickadee Poecile carolinensis and Mountain Chickadee Poecile gambeli. The Black-capped is brighter, more colorful and more contrastingly marked than the Carolina, though variation and hybrids are recorded in the narrow band of overlap. Mountain is lsightly longer-billed and longer-winged with white supercilium.
Behavior: Hop on trees or (less frequently) on the ground while foraging. Rarely “walk” along twigs or branches while hanging upside-down; can also creep along more-or-less vertical trunks while foraging. Flight is slightly undulating with rapid wing beats; most flights are less than 15 m long.

Habitat: Deciduous and mixed deciduous/coniferous woodland, open woods and parks, willow thickets, and cottonwood groves. Also disturbed areas, such as old fields or suburban areas, where suitable nest sites are available with sufficient foliage to support adequate food for dependent offspring. Generally more common near edges of wooded areas, but can be found even in the middle of large wooded tracts. Often found in, though not confined to, areas where birch or alder trees occur; these provide both food and nest sites.

Information:

Chickadees are seen most readily during winter when nonbreeding flocks visit feeders. Winter populations may contain both regular flock members, which typically spend the whole winter in a single flock, and also winter floaters—birds whose home range includes that of 3 to 5 flocks, with an established position in the dominance hierarchy of each one. Under suitable conditions, a high-ranked bird that disappears from a flock may be replaced by a floater, which assumes the rank, and pairs with the mate of the vanished bird. Such replacements evidently occur only where floater density is high.

Conservation Status:

BC status Yellow. Forest clearing for agriculture can increase forest edge, preferred habitat for chickadees. Feeders enhance chickadee survival and overzealous forest management can reduce or eliminate natural nest sites. Where natural sites are rare, nest boxes may be accepted, especially if partially filled with sawdust.

 
Capture Rates


Year-round residents of the Lower Mainland, Black-capped Chickadee capture rates (2010-2012; standardized as birds captured per 100 net hours) peak in winter months when non-breeding winter foraging flocks of 3 to 12 individuals are conspicuous.

 

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