BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE (Poecile atricapillus)
DESCRIPTION: The Black-capped Chickadee has a black cap with white sides on the face and a black throat. The back and tail are grey, the under parts white with buff flanks. The sexes are similar. It is a very small song bird, at around 12 cm (5 inches) long.
VOICE: https://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Poecile-atricapillus – Aside from the call that gives it its name, a soft, descending three-note call can be heard in the spring.
NAME: The English name of this species is an onomatopoeia for one of the bird’s signature calls, and also refers to its head color. The Latin genus name ‘Poecile’ is from ancient Greek and means ‘colorful’. As for the Latin species name ‘atricapillus’, it means ‘black hair on the head’.
HABITAT: Forests large and small, wooded areas in parks and cities.
DIET: Mix of insects, arthropods, and seeds. Black-capped chickadees eat large seeds – such as sunflower – by holding them between their feet on a branch and hammering at them with their bill.
NESTING: This species nests in a cavity on trees, usually in an abandoned woodpecker hole. If not they will excavate their own nest. The eggs are white and incubated by the female. A clutch can contain between two and ten eggs. Both parents feed the chicks.
DISTRIBUTION: The black-capped chickadee is a North America year-round resident. Its range covers the boreal forests of Canada and Alaska, and the north half of the USA.
ON PEI: Black-capped chickadees are year-round residents on Prince Edward Island.
CONSERVATION: Black-capped chickadees are widespread and considered at risk.
NOTES: These chickadees are very agile and can even walk upside down on branches sometimes.
See photos below for a rare leucistic black-capped chickadee – note the lack of pigmentation on the head, the bill and legs.
Black-capped chickadees are easily attracted to bird feeders. Some species (such as evening grosbeaks) will flock in groups to a feeder and fight among each other to get the best spot. However the black-capped chickadee comes one at a time, while the others will wait for their turn. There appears to be a ‘dominance hierarchy’ among those birds.
Black-capped chickadees are tame and with a little patience they can be hand fed (photo below). When fed in abundance – which easily happens with bird feeders – black-capped chickadees will store seeds in every little nook and cranny they can find.
The black-capped chickadee is the State Bird for Maine and Massachusetts, and the Provincial Bird of New Brunswick.
SIMILAR SPECIES: Boreal Chickadee (has a brown cap),
REFERENCES: https://www.mba-aom.ca/jsp/toc.jsp (Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas)
This video below shows that contrary to many ‘social’ birds, the black-capped chickadees will only feed one by one from a food source, waiting for their ‘turn’. They probably also feel vulnerable on the ground on that trail, as they zip back up in the trees as soon as they find a seed. Taken on the trail along the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown.