What is the State Bird of Massachusetts? (And Why?)

Massachusetts is the seventh smallest state in the United States and the 16th most populous. Although it's a small state, Massachusetts still boasts numerous diverse areas, with large coastal plains and hilly, rural areas. There is no state animal for Massachusetts, instead, the state marine animal is the right whale, but what is the state bird?

The state of Massachusetts chose the black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) as the state bird in 1941. The tiny, black and white bird with an oversized head excitedly greets the human residents of Massachusetts. The chickadee, also known as a black-cap titmouse, enjoys both the deciduous and mixed forests. This chickadee mostly eats insects but also eats plants and enjoys eating poison ivy.

The state bird of Massachusetts, the Black-capped Chickadee

The state bird of Massachusetts, the Black-capped Chickadee

Why is the black-capped chickadee the state bird for Massachusetts?

The Bay State, Massachusetts, chose the wild black-capped chickadee for its state bird but didn’t provide the reason in its legislation. This bird settled down in all of the woody areas of the state - cottonwood groves, deciduous and mixed forests, open woods, willow thickets, and even its parks. The best theory anyone has is that its cuteness caught on and appealed to the state’s residents. The outgoing bird openly approaches humans. The black-capped chickadee approaches everything about life enthusiastically, making it a nice complement to the residents of the state.

When did the black-capped chickadee become the state bird for Massachusetts?

The state of Massachusetts legislature adopted the black-cap chickadee as the state bird on March 21, 1941. Massachusetts shares the black-capped chickadee as a state bird with Maine.

Black-capped Chickadee perched on a bird feeder

Black-capped Chickadee perched on a bird feeder

What does the state bird of Massachusetts look like?

This songbird entertains from the trees of Massachusetts, seemingly wearing a tuxedo or a sharp suit, with its white or cream-breasted feathers. It features some unique characteristics, including a V-shaped band of black.

The black-capped chickadee grows a silver beak with a black forehead and face. Its stomach typically appears cream-colored or white, while its back grows in a grayish variation of the same. This bird features a gray and black tail and wings. Both genders grow to about 4.7 to 5.9 inches in length.

Its wingspan ranges from 7.5 to 8.7 inches. These little birds don’t weigh much – only .3175 ounces to .4938 ounces. They have a wingspan of 6.29 to 8.26 inches.

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

How do these birds behave?

The friendly, gregarious black-capped chickadee mates for life. Unlike some birds, they do not exhibit complex mating rituals. The male will chase off encroaching male birds, but scientists haven’t observed a courting dance or song. The birds do participate in mate feeding. The birds form couples and break off from the flock. They create a nest together, typically in tree cavities. They prefer cavities with partially rotted wood because this provides a softer foundation. The female adds moss and other soft material to the next to ready it for breeding. This takes about a week.

The mother bird lays about six eggs, but the brood can range from a single egg to eleven eggs. She incubates the eggs for 12 days, during which time, the male feeds her. He may call her from the nest for feeding when he locates suitable meals, or she may call him to bring her food. When their babies hatch, the female tends to them while the male hunts and forages for food, bringing it back to the nest to feed the whole family. Both parents feed the children.

Baby black-capped chickadees grow quickly, first venturing from the nest at 16 days. About ten days after this first flight foray, the chicks venture out on their own to find food.

These birds have an average lifespan of two to three years, but the record for this bird’s life span is 11 years and six months. They breed one or two times per season.

Black-capped Chickadee gathering nesting material

Black-capped Chickadee gathering nesting material

Do black-capped chickadees form communities?

Black-capped chickadees form nuclear families. These monogamous birds mate for life. During winter, they do fly with a flock, but they use this flock travel as a means to meet and mate. They choose a partner from the flock. Once coupled, they build a nest together. This bird willingly nests in birdhouses, so long as you place the birdhouse high enough that the birds can avoid predators – between four to 15 feet in height. To make the birdhouse more attractive, place a few woodchips inside it.

The black-capped chickadee relocates for winter when it searches for a friendly habitat for breeding. Once they build their home, they want to stay there and raise their family. Their nesting period begins in April and lasts only until June.

Their flocks tend to consist of about a dozen or fewer birds. It contains some adult pairs, a few single adults, and some juveniles. The flock forms around a dominant couple to establish a feeding territory and only remain together from August to February. While they fly the territory, they interact with other birds, including the Tufted Titmice, Downy Woodpecker, and White-Breasted Nuthatch.

A black-capped chickadee bringing an insect back to the nest

A black-capped chickadee bringing an insect back to the nest

What do black-capped chickadees eat?

Black-capped chickadees love meat, as odd as that may sound for a bird's diet. During winter, about 50 percent of their diet consists of insects, insect larvae, and egg cases. During summer, that increases to 80 percent. They are beneficial birds since they dine on caterpillars, cankerworms, and spruce budworms.

To attract them to your bird feeder or birdhouse, place a suet feeder in your yard. You can also attract them with black oil sunflower seed in your feeders. The black-capped chickadee has consummate manners. Only one of these birds feeds at a time, so they take turns at the feeder. The alpha or dominant bird feeds first.

For more information on their diet, click here.

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