The Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) is the most widespread of six American Chickadee species in the Paridae family. Birdwatchers can enjoy these birds all year long, and their ‘chick-a-dee-dee-dee’ call and ‘hey-sweetie’ song will be familiar to many, particularly in the winter and spring. Would you like to know where Black-capped Chickadees live and which habitats they prefer?
Black-capped Chickadees are common residents from Western Alaska in the north to Colorado in the South. These active little birds occur in various forest and woodland types, especially where they border more open habitats.
Black-capped Chickadees regularly visit backyard bird feeders, which provide a valuable food source in the cold winter months. Of course, that doesn’t mean these birds need any help. Chickadees have remarkable physiological and behavioral tricks to see them through those short, cold days.
This article covers the distribution and habitat preferences of the Black-capped Chickadee, a familiar northern songbird that can tough out even the harshest winter nights.
Black-capped chickadees are mainly found in forests and woodlands
Black-capped Chickadees are widespread in the northern two-thirds of the Lower 48 States, from the Pacific Northwest to New England and as far south as New Mexico along the Rocky Mountains. They also extend along the Appalachian mountains to Georgia in the Southeast.
Look out for them in the following regions and states.
In the West, Black-capped Chickadees occur from the Pacific coast in Washington and Oregon to Montana and Wyoming. The southern boundary of their range includes the extreme north of California and Nevada and through the northern half of Utah to Colorado and Northern New Mexico.
Black-capped Chickadees occur across most of the Midwest, from North Dakota to Michigan. The southern boundary of their range passes through Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.
Black-capped Chickadees are found virtually throughout the Northeast, from Pennsylvania in the south to Maine in the north. They are popular birds in New England and are honored as the State Bird of Massachusetts and the State Bird of Maine.
Their range extends marginally into the Southeast through West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Kansas, and North and South Carolina.
Black-capped Chickadees are widespread in the western half of Alaska and occur along the Last Frontier State's southwest Pacific coast.
Black-capped Chickadees are common in Canada from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic. Birdwatchers can spot these busy birds in the following Canadian provinces and territories:
Black-capped chickadee perched on a branch, British Columbia, Canada
Black-capped Chickadees prefer deciduous and mixed forests, although they also frequent parks, backyards, thickets, and old fields. They are associated with well-wooded areas, but these birds prefer the forest edge to the interior and usually occur within a few hundred feet of edges and clearings.
Black-capped Chickadees are common birds in their preferred habitats, and they are particularly conspicuous in the colder months when many other species have migrated south to warmer climates.
Across their range, Black-capped chickadees are common birds
Visit the edge of deciduous forests and woodlands if you don’t have Black-capped Chickadees in your neighborhood. They frequently visit bird feeders, especially if you provide suet, black oil sunflower seeds, and peanuts/peanut butter. They will also use carefully placed nest boxes with an entrance hole of 1 ⅛ inches.
Black-capped Chickadees emerge from their overnight roosting sites around dawn and forage during the day. They return to their roosts at twilight to shelter for the night.
Black-capped chickadee at a bird feeder
Black-capped Chickadees are generally sedentary, and banding studies have shown that ninety percent of them stay where they were first caught.
However, Black-capped Chickadees undergo population booms or irruptions, often at two or three-year intervals. Most individuals stay within their typical distribution range at these times, but many move south in the fall, and some even move north.
Black-capped Chickadees are a non-migratory species. This is quite remarkable for such a small bird, considering their distribution range includes much of Canada and Alaska in the north. These birds use the same habitats throughout the year.
Black-capped chickadee perched on a snow-covered branch, during winter
Surviving the northern winter poses a great challenge for a warm-blooded animal that weighs less than half an ounce. To keep warm and conserve energy, Black-capped Chickadees fluff out their feathers to trap body heat while allowing their body temperature to drop at night.
An insulated roost site is essential for their survival, particularly on long winter nights in Alaska. These birds spend the night in thick vegetation and cozy cavities to shelter from the elements.
Even with good shelter, Chickadees need a lot of fuel to stay warm, and researchers in Alaska found that they pack on (and lose) ten percent of their body weight each day in winter.
This requires a whole lot of food, and fortunately, these birds have a clever way of finding a meal even in the dead of winter.
Black-capped Chickadees collect and store food in caches in the warmer months to see them through the winter. Of course, they must remember where their food is hidden, so these birds have a well-developed hippocampus and excellent spatial memory.
Black-capped chickadee perched next to a Northern Cardinal, during the fall
Black-capped Chickadees live in the same areas in the summer as in the winter. Areas with Birch and Alder trees are often used for nesting.
Black-capped Chickadees live in flocks of four to twelve in the winter but separate into breeding pairs in the spring. Pairs are territorial while nesting, and their territory may cover several hectares.
These birds will happily feed almost shoulder to shoulder with the other members of their flock in the winter. They will also join mixed flocks with other birds like Downy Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, Titmice, and other small songbirds.
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