Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

name = Black-capped Chickadee
status = LC | status_system = IUCN3.1

image_width = 260px
regnum = Animalia
phylum = Chordata
classis = Aves
ordo = Passeriformes
familia = Paridae
genus = "Poecile"
species = "P. atricapillus"
binomial = "Poecile atricapillus"
binomial_authority = (Linnaeus, 1766)
synonyms = "Parus atricapillus"

The Black-capped Chickadee ("Poecile atricapillus") is a small, common songbird, a passerine bird in the tit family Paridae.


Often, it is still placed in the genus "Parus" with most other tits, but mtDNA cytochrome b sequence data and morphology suggest that separating "Poecile" more adequately expresses these birds' relationships (Gill et al., 2005). The American Ornithologists' Union has been treating "Poecile" as distinct genus for some time already.

The genus name "Poecile" has often been treated as feminine (giving the species name ending "atricapilla"); however, this was not specified by the original genus author Johann Jakob Kaup, and under the ICZN the genus name must therefore be treated by default as masculine, giving the name ending "atricapillus" (del Hoyo et al. 2007).


The Black-capped Chickadee has a black cap and bib with white sides to the face. Its under parts are white with rusty brown on the flanks; its back is gray. It has a short dark bill, short wings and a long tail. The tail is normally primarily slate-gray but has been observed in central New Jersey in 2008 to be completely white and seemingly longer and more prominent than the normal gray tail. At least one other such white tail has been observed as a documented change occurring in one individual (banded) bird. []

Distribution and habitat

The breeding habitat of the Black-capped Chickadee is mixed or deciduous woods in Canada, Alaska and the northern United States.The Black-capped and Carolina chickadees are virtually impossible to tell apart visually, but they are readily distinguished by call. Their point of overlap is near New Brunswick, New Jersey.


They are permanent residents, but sometimes move south within their range in winter. On cold winter nights, these birds reduce their body temperature by up to 10-12 °C to conserve energy.

During the fall migration and winter, chickadees often flock together. Many other species of birds, including titmice, nuthatches, and warblers can often be found foraging in these flocks. Mixed flocks stay together because the chickadees call out whenever they find a good source of food. This calling out forms cohesion for the group, allowing the other birds to find food more efficiently. When flocking, Black-capped Chickadees soon establish a rigid social hierarchy.

In sparsely populated rural or forested areas, chickadees are often less wary than in urban settings. They may be observed exhibiting a sense of curiosity about the unfamiliar human activity within their habitat.


The vocalizations of the Black-capped chickadees are highly complex (Ficken "et al.", 1978). 13 distinct types of vocalizations have been classified, many of which are complex and can communicate different types of information. Chickadees' complex vocalizations are likely an evolutionary adaptation to their habitat: they live and feed in dense vegetation, and even when the flock is close together, individual birds tend to be out of each others' visual range.

The song of the Black-capped is a simple, clear whistle of two notes, identical in rhythm, the first roughly a third above the second. This is distinguished from the Carolina chickadee's four-note call "fee-bee fee-bay"; the lower notes are nearly identical but the higher "fee" notes are omitted, making the Black-capped song like "bee bay".

The males only sing the song when in relative isolation from other chickadees (including their mates). In late summer, some young birds will sing only a single note. Both sexes sometimes make a faint version of the song, and this appears to be used when feeding young.

The most familiar call is the familiar "chick-a-dee-dee-dee" which gave this bird its name. This simple-sounding call is astonishingly complex. It has been observed to consist of up to four distinct units which can be arranged in different patterns to communicate information about threats from predators and coordination of group movement. Recent study of the call shows that the number of "dee"s indicates the level of threat from nearby predators. An analysis of over 5,000 alarm calls from chickadees, it was found that alarm calls triggered by small, dangerous raptors had a shorter interval between "chick" and "dee" and tended to have extra "dee"s, usually averaging four instead of two. In one case, a warning call about a pygmy owl, a prime threat to chickadees, contained 23 "dee"s (Templeton "et al.", 2005). The Carolina Chickadee makes a similar call which is faster and higher-pitched.

There are a number of other calls and sounds that these Chickadees make, such as a "gargle" noise which is usually used by males to indicate a threat of attacking another male, often when feeding. This call is also used in sexual contexts. This noise is among the most complex of the calls, containing 2-9 of 14 distinct notes in one population that was studied.


These birds hop along tree branches searching for food, sometimes hanging upside down or hovering; they may make short flights to catch insects in the air. Insects form a large part of their diet, especially in summer; seeds and berries become important in winter. Black oil sunflower seeds are quickly taken from an urban bird feeder. They sometimes hammer seeds on a tree or shrub to open them; they also will store seeds for later use.


The Black-capped Chickadee nests in a hole in a tree; the pair excavates the nest, using a natural cavity or sometimes an old woodpecker nest. They may interbreed with Carolina Chickadees or Mountain Chickadees where their ranges overlap.

Relationship with humans

Chickadees in Culture

*This is the provincial bird of New Brunswick and the state bird of Maine and Massachusetts.
*A Canadian children's magazine also goes by the name "Chickadee".
*"My Little Chickadee" was one of W.C. Fields' most well-known and often-used catchphrases.


* Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern
*Ficken, M.S., Ficken, R. W., & Witkin, S. R. (1978). Vocal repertoire of the Black-capped Chickadee. "Auk" 95 (1): 34-48. [ PDF fulltext]
*Del Hoyo, J., Elliot, A., & Christie D. (eds). (2007). "Handbook of the Birds of the World". Volume 12: Picathartes to Tits and Chickadees. Lynx Edicions. ISBN 9788496553422
*Gill, F. B., Slikas, B., & Sheldon, F. H. (2005). Phylogeny of titmice (Paridae): II. Species relationships based on sequences of the mitochondrial cytochrome-"b" gene. "Auk" 122: 121-143. DOI: 10.1642/0004-8038(2005)122 [0121:POTPIS] 2.0.CO;2 [ HTML abstract]
*Smith, S. M. (1991): "The black-capped Chickadee: Behavioural Ecology and Natural History". Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-2382-1 (1991 reprint)
*Templeton, C. N., Greene, E., & Davis, K. (2005). Allometry of alarm calls: black-capped chickadees encode information about predator size. "Science" 308 (5730): 1934-1937. PMID 15976305 DOI|10.1126/science.1108841 (HTML abstract)

External links

* Internet Bird Collection: [ Black-capped Chickadee videos] . Retrieved 2006-NOV-21.
* [ Black-capped Chickadee - "Poecile atricapilla"] - USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter
* [ Black-capped Chickadee Species Account] - Cornell Lab of Ornithology
* [ Black-capped Chickadee Information and Photos] - South Dakota Birds and Birding
* [ Black-capped Chickadee] . Retrieved 2006-NOV-21.
* [ Stamps]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • black-capped chickadee — noun chickadee having a dark crown • Syn: ↑blackcap, ↑Parus atricapillus • Hypernyms: ↑chickadee * * * noun : chickadee; especially …   Useful english dictionary

  • black-capped chickadee — juodgalvė zylė statusas T sritis zoologija | vardynas atitikmenys: lot. Parus atricapillus; Poecile atricapillus angl. black capped chickadee vok. Schwarzkopfmeise, f rus. черношапочная гаичка, f pranc. mésange à tête noire, f ryšiai: platesnis… …   Paukščių pavadinimų žodynas

  • black-capped chickadee — /blak kapt /. See under chickadee. [1870 75, Amer.] * * * …   Universalium

  • Black-capped — may refer to:* Black capped Chickadee, small songbird * Black capped Flycatcher, very small passerine bird in the tyrant flycatcher family * Black capped Kingfisher, tree kingfisher which is widely distributed in tropical Asia from India east to… …   Wikipedia

  • Chickadee (disambiguation) — Chickadee is a group of birds in the Paridae family Chickadee may also refer to: USS Chickadee (AM 59), a minesweeper in the United States Navy Chickadee (magazine), a Canadian children s magazine See also Black capped Chickadee Boreal Chickadee… …   Wikipedia

  • chickadee — /chik euh dee /, n. any of several North American birds of the genus Parus, of the titmouse family, esp. P. atricapillus (black capped chickadee), having the throat and top of the head black. [1820 30; imit.] * * * Any of several North American… …   Universalium

  • Chickadee — черноголовая синица (символизирует штат Массачусетс). Any of the several north American titmice, especially black capped chickadee, having the throat and top of the head black …   Словарь топонимов США

  • chickadee — black capped titmouse, 1838, Amer.Eng., echoic of its cry …   Etymology dictionary

  • chickadee — n. Black capped titmouse (Parus atricapillus) …   New dictionary of synonyms

  • Carolina Chickadee — Taxobox name = Carolina Chickadee image width = 260px status= LC status system=iucn3.1 status ref =IUCN 2007. 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. . Downloaded on 07 March 2008. ] regnum = Animalia phylum = Chordata classis = Aves ordo =… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”