Black-capped Chickadee

Poecile atricapillus
Black-capped Chickadee specimens on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

A small (4 ¾ -5 ¾ inches) songbird, the Black-capped Chickadee is most easily identified by its gray back and tail, pale breast, black chin, and black cap. However, positive identification of this species is complicated where its range overlaps with that of the closely related Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis). Black-capped Chickadees are generally larger and paler-winged than their southern relatives, but it is often impossible to separate the two species in the field by physical appearance alone. Hybrids with mixed physical and vocal characteristics do occur, further complicating identification. Male and female Black-capped Chickadees are similar to one another in all seasons. The Black-capped Chickadee breeds across much of southern Alaska, Canada, and the northern half of the United States. This species’ range overlaps with that of the Carolina Chickadee in a narrow band stretching from the Mid-Atlantic region west to Kansas, particularly where this species’ range dips southward at higher elevations in the lower Appalachian Mountains. Black-capped Chickadees are generally non-migratory, although small groups may wander at times when food is scarce. Black-capped Chickadees inhabit a number of forest types, including deciduous and mixed deciduous-evergreen woodland habitats. This species also utilizes human-altered habitats, and may be found in urban and suburban areas where food and sufficient tree cover are available. Black-capped Chickadees eat a variety of plant and animal foods, with insects predominating in summer and seeds becoming more important in winter. In appropriate habitat, Black-capped Chickadees may be observed foraging for food in the tree canopy, often hanging from the ends of branches while eating seeds or picking insects off of leaves and bark. This species is also a common backyard feeder bird, visiting feeding trays as part of mixed flocks of small songbirds. This species’ song, a whistled “fee-bee-bee,” and its call, a clear “chick-a-dee-dee-dee,” are both lower-pitched than those of the Carolina Chickadee. Black-capped Chickadees are primarily active during the day.

DC Information

Rare and irregular winter visitor, October to April; more common to the west of this area. It is often confused with the Carolina Chickadee but has rustier flanks and white feather-edging on the wings. The sexes are alike.

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Sound from xeno-canto. XC16901 Poecile atricapillus (Black-capped Chickadee)

Parus atricapillus

Sound from xeno-canto. XC70434 Poecile atricapillus (Black-capped Chickadee)