This Chickadee is Popular and the Call is Famous.
For the meanings of bird parts which you do not understand in this Hub, see my bird glossary.
If you want what is not there, please let me know so that I may add it into the glossary.
Chickadees (left) and Titmice (right)
Chickadees and Titmice:
There is a family called Paridae which includes both the titmice and the chickadees. They come to the feeders and will also eat food from your hand - when they prefer certain seeds over natural food. There are about 51 species which breed around the world, but in North America it is only about 11 or 13 species.
Description of the Black-capped Chickadee:
The first one to be introduced is a popular one, at least to those in the north range of NA.
It is the Black-capped Chickadee, (Poecile atricapillus). This bird covers the northern half of North America and parts of Canada. It is best described by saying that its size is usually from 4.25” – 5.75” (10.795 – 14.605 cm). Whenever it has its wings spread fully open they reach 8” from tip to tip. It is a very small bird and very light since the male and female are different sizes. Its weight is between 0.32 - 0.49 oz. (9 - 14 g). It has a bill which is only 0.31” – 0.37” (8 – 9.5 mm) long. Its tarsus measures 0.63” – 0.67” (16 – 17 mm) and it has a tail that is 2.3” – 2.5” (58 – 63 mm) in length.
The description of this bird is simple because both the male and the female look basically the same with very little differences. The males are sparsely bulkier, and longer, than the females. Beginning on the top of its head it has a black cap, and a throat to match, and both of its cheeks are white. The top of its back is a (light) furry gray but as you go down a ways the feathers are a light black; then just above the tail it becomes a few thin stripes of white/black. Following the back is a part which comes to a point and overlaps the tail and is a medium black, then comes the black tail. The underparts are only a dull white and the wing feathers have white along the edges. It is difficult to separate the Black-capped Chickadee from the Carolina Chickadee but it is possible. I will explain the differences between the two in the Carolina Chickadee Hub.
Have you seen a Black-capped Chickadee?
Chickadees at feedersClick thumbnail to view full-size
Hand fed chickadee
Let us talk about its daily diet and its searching for food.
In the summer a considerable part of what they eat are insects – particularly caterpillars. When they go hunting for these insects it is by one of three ways: hopping along the tree branches; hanging upside down on the branches; or hovering – they make short flights to catch insects in the air. They still eat seeds though because Black-Oil Sunflower cannot always be found - or they like to crack the shell - and suet are populars.
In the winter seeds and berries shift into the more important slot, but insect eggs and pupae are still part of the list if they can be found. They go to bird feeders for black-oil sunflower seeds. I use to watch them as they took one of these black-oil seeds and flew up to a tree branch to hold it with their talons as they cracked it with their bill. Once they had eaten the inside, they came back for another one.
Black-capped Chickadees are not the only species in the Paridae family who frequently cache their seeds and sometimes the insects too. They store the items in different locations - one at a time - which may be in bark, in leaves, in conifer needles gathered in clusters, or even in knotholes. There is one catch; they can only remember where they put everything for up to 28 days. In a period of 24 hours, if it is the first 24 hours, the birds are able to recall the comparable quality of the items which they stored.
Can you feed a chickadee (or a titmouse) by hand?
Nest and Eggs:
They search trees until they find holes in the trees that they like and want to place their nests into, which must be between 3.3’ – 23’ (1-7 m) above the ground. They look for their holes in one of three ways: 1) perhaps the pair will uncover the hole side by side of each other; or they will use an everyday hollow area; perhaps even – sometimes – an outdated woodpecker’s nest. A nesting box is another option for this species. April (late April) to June is when their nesting season occurs. Only the female is responsible for building the nest, the male has nothing to do with it. What the nest is made with includes all coarse elements on the outside – moss or bark strips; for the lining more fine elements are used – like mammal hair.
The color of this chickadee’s eggs are white and they have reddish brown spots, in a goup, at the wider end of the egg. The approximate size of the eggs are 60” x 48” (1.52 x 1.22 cm). The size of each of their clutches is usually 6 – 8 eggs. The female handles the incubation and feeding the young on her own and that is for 11 - 14 days. While the male takes care of feeding her. When there is company at the nest - an unwanted guest, for instance - then you may hear a sudden ‘violent’ hiss – sounding like a snake – hopefully to frighten away any predators. Even though the young can still be fed as before, even though they are skilled to capture their own food in a period of about a week following their leaving the nest.
When the time comes for the eggs to hatch, the young ones emerge from the eggs without any feathers (altricial) and also with their eyes still closed. After hatching, the young are fed by both the male and the female adults. Following 12 – 16 days after hatching the young ones leave the nest. Mainly since the parents stop feeding them inside of the nest and only serve them food from the outside.
Black-capped Chickadees usually have a clutch generally one time per year but if there are problems – say the eggs are stolen or the nestlings die - then a second clutch is always achievable. When the age of the young reaches one year then the first breeding has been reached. Twelve years is the utmost lifetime that has been reported but it seems that only half that long is what most of the birds actually live.
These chickadees are cordially monogamous and because of that reproduction is helped along with the males providing to it considerably. If you do not remember, during the laying and incubation periods, the males fed the females largely. Once the hatching has happened then the males are the primary providers. The females become the nest keepers when the nestlings become older. Primary males are preferred by the females, and better reproduction progress is closely similar to the higher ranking of the male.
They may also crossbreed with Carolina Chickadees or Mountain Chickadees when their ranges extend over each other. Crossbreeding with Boreal Chickadees has also been recorded, but it turns out to be more rare.
Black-capped fee bee Call
Song and Call:
The songs and calls of this chickadee are extremely difficult to understand. There are specific classes – thirteen to be exact - of songs/calls which are in a certain order - many of which are complicated and can correspond to different sorts of messages. Chickadees’ songs/calls are likely because they are saying that they are changing habituation to their residence: They live and feed in heavy vegetables and greenery. Even when the group is closely combined singular birds are apt to be out of each other’s optical field.
The Black-capped has a song which is plain and easy. It is a distinct sound like a flute of two notes which are similar in tempo. The only difference being that the first note is basically an entire level above the second note. You can identify this from the Carolina Chickadee’s fee-bee fee-bay; the bottom notes are almost the same except the upper (fee) notes are removed from the Black-capped song. The song of the Black-capped is only bee-bay.
When you hear the song, it is being sung when the males are almost by themselves; when I say ‘by themselves’ I mean that there are no other chickadees around, not even their own partners.
Do you know how this bird got its name? It received its name because of the call which it is mostly well-known by – chic-a-dee-dee-dee. Even though it sounds clear, the call is amazingly complicated. Studies have been done showing that at least four different groups exist that can be organized in various methods to exchange messages about the arrangement of the flock activity due to threats from predators. The degree of threats from predators which are close at hand shown by a current survey, indicated by the number dees in the call. It was brought into being, by results of over 5,000 alarm calls from chickadees, that the alarm calls which are provoked because of the small, dangerous raptors caused a briefer break between chick and dee and resulted in having extra dees – basically it was four rather than two.There was even one circumstance where the main threat to the chickadees - the pygmy owl - had a warning call which included 23 dees. Another bird that makes a call which is very much alike is the Carolina Chickadee. The difference being that the Carolina’s call is more rapid and higher in tone of sound.
A quantity of other calls and sounds can also be made and one of them is a gargle noise which is basically made by males to imply that they will be attacking another male – usually when they are feeding. Another time this is used is during sexual relations. One culture was analyzed and two to nine of 14 discrete notes were included. From this they concluded that certain noise was in a group with the most difficult to understand calls.
Range and Habitat:
Starting at New England they cover from there to Alaska to just below the center of the US in most areas. On the west they go down into parts of California, in the center of the country they go to New Mexico, and Missouri. In the winter they go to the Maryland area, Texas and I even heard into Mexico. In the north, they are in Canada – again from coast to coast – and even in Newfoundland.
Usually you will find them in what are only deciduous woods but they may also be found in mixed woods – woods which are both deciduous and conifer. Other options are open woods, parks and even suburban areas. Habitat isolation is the primary point that sets the Black-capped Chickadee apart from the Boreal Chickadee in the Pacific northwest (both of these species definitely desire the coniferous forests). Elevation also sets the Black-capped Chickadee apart from the (higher) Mountain Chickadee in the Western Mountains; and the (lower) Carolina Chickadee in the Great Smokey Mountains.
Conservation and interesting Facts:
These chickadees are common and their total societies have been getting larger since 1966 as presented by the North American Breeding Survey. Between 1966 and 2010 their western dwellers lessened somewhat, but due to a growth in eastern societies that loss was more than made up for. It was estimated by Partners in Flight that the population of global breeding was at 41 million. They had found out that 54% were living in Canada while having another 46% living in the United States. They were not on the 2012 Watch List because they rated 6 out of 20 on Continental Control Score. This chickadee can be aided in two ways: first, anybody who has bird feeders is a benefit to this species; second, clearing the forest for cultivation or growth can enlarge a forest edge which can make the habitat better. When too many dead trees are cut out of forests, as ordered by land managers, chickadees suffer because they nest in the hollows of these trees like many other birds.
Interesting Facts -
- The Black-capped is the state bird of both Massachusetts and Maine.
- It also has one of the most perplexing songs/vocalizations of all animals. It may be an alarm call, a contact call, signify admission of a particular flock or to recognize an individual.
- They also hide their food taking up to 28 days to retrieve it.
Do you have feeders in your yard for these birds? It is fun to watch them!
© 2014 The Examiner-1