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Black-capped Chickadee

Common Name: Black-capped Chickadee.

Scientific Name: Poecile atricapillus.

What to look for?  Black-capped chickadees are named for the “cap” of black feathers that covers the top of the bird's head and extends just below the eyes. It is a bird almost universally considered “cute” thanks to its oversized round head and tiny body. The chickadee’s coloration is quite distinctive: black cap and bib; white cheeks; gray back, wings, and tail; and whitish underside with buffy sides. Males, females, and juveniles have the same plumage.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? Black-capped Chickadee are here all year long. However, they may more often be seen during the winter months grabbing seed at your bird-feeders.

How big are they? The Black-capped Chickadee is a small bird. Their average length is 5 inches. They have a wingspan of approximately 7 inches. And they weigh in at only 1/2 of an ounce.

What are their flight patterns? Black-capped Chickadees often move acrobatically through small branches of trees. They can perch sideways or upside-down (similar traits to the American Goldfinch). And their flight path is a bouncy, roller coaster pattern. This is called "Flap-Bounding" where short bursts of flapping are alternated with intervals in which the wings are folded against the body.

How else do they behave? Chickadees are active, curious, social birds that live in flocks. They may associate with other birds, including woodpeckers, nuthatches, warblers, vireos, and other small woodland birds. They forage mostly by hopping among twigs and branches and gleaning food from the surface or by hanging upside down to reach underside of branches. Black-capped Chickadees seldom remain at feeders except to grab a seed and dash elsewhere to eat - and they never dine side by side.

What’s for dinner? Black-capped Chickadees eat large quantities of insect eggs, larvae and pupae, weevils, lice, sawflies, and other insects. The chickadee is one of the most important pest exterminators of the forest. They consume some berries and seeds, especially in the winter when insects become scarce. They are commonly seen at bird feeders.

Where do they take up residence? The Black-capped Chickadee is one of the most familiar and widespread birds in North America. It is found coast to coast and from much of Canada down to the northern half of the U. S. The northern section of Illinois is approximates the southern end of its range. Black-capped Chickadees may be found in any habitat that has trees or woody shrubs, such as forests, woodlots, residential neighborhoods and parks and cattail marshes – hence, Carillon Stonegate Ponds! Chickadees are seen most readily during winter when non-breeding flocks visit your backyard bird-feeders here. Black-capped Chickadees may reside in nest boxes, small natural cavities in trees, or abandoned woodpecker cavities – Carillon Stonegate Pond is frequented by a variety of woodpeckers such as the Downy Woodpecker. They will dig out their own cavities. Black-capped Chickadees are monogamous and form long-term pair bonds. Pairs typically form in fall and remain together as part of winter flock.

Where do they migrate? No. Black-capped Chickadees do not migrate. In years when chickadee reproduction is high, young birds sometimes move large distances, but these movements are irregular. While mostly a permanent resident, chickadees occasionally are seen in large numbers flying southward during the fall.

What is their conservation status? There is low concern. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Black-capped Chickadee has seen slight increases in populations. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 43 million.

Do they make any interesting sounds? Black-capped Chickadees are often heard before they are seen. The chickadee makes some 15 different calls to communicate with its flock-mates and offspring. The best known is the “chickadee-dee-dee” that gives the bird its name. The more “dee” notes in a “chickadee-dee-dee” call, the higher the threat level. Here is a link to the sounds of the Black-capped Chickadee.

Interesting Facts About Black--capped Chickadees:

  • The Black-capped Chickadee is a frequent visitor to bird feeders.

  • Unlike many birds, Black-capped Chickadees never dine side by side; each awaits its turn; they take a seed and fly off into a tree to eat and return later for more.

  • The Black-capped Chickadee hides seeds and other food items to eat later and can remember where they hide food for at least a month after putting it in its hiding place.

  • To keep warm the chickadee erects its soft, thick feathers to trap warm air close to its body. This serves as good insulation against the cold.

  • When breeding season begins, the tiny brains of chickadees and other songbirds enlarge to enable the birds to create more sounds.

  • Even when temperatures are far below zero, chickadees virtually always sleep in their own individual cavities. In rotten wood, they can excavate nesting and roosting holes entirely on their own.

For more information on Black-capped Chickadee and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds and Audubon Society.  And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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