Black-Capped and Carolina

(Parus Family)

Black-capped chickadees (Parus atricapillus):

Black-capped chickadees are my favorite backyard bird.

They seem to have a trust for people and it shows.

Their curious allows these little guys to get close to you and they watch you as much as you watch them.

They are considered the easiest bird to hand feed and with a little patience you can have them eating out of your hand too.

To attract these busy birds, add a feeder and some water to your yard. In late winter to early spring, put out a bird house constructed for this cavity nesting bird and you can greatly increase your chances of watching these birds as they go about their nesting and mating habits.


A member of the Titmouse family and measure about 5 1/4 inches in length. Most backyard bird watchers are familiar with its black cap, white cheeks, and black bib.

Mating Habits & Nesting Habits:

Once these little Black-capped birds pair up and mate, they are mates for life or until one dies.

Pairs generally break from the small winter flocks that have been feeding together through the cold months and begin selecting mates. The Black-capped birds nest in wooded areas and are cavity nesting birds. The nest is excavated in the soft, partially rotted wood of a tree trunk or broken limb. These birds are excellent candidates for man-made bird houses.

The nesting season is from March through June. Locate any Chickadee Birdhouse 4-15 feet high in at least 50% shade and place a few wood chips in the nesting box to encourage them to nest. They will not use the wood chips, but this helps in attracting them to the nest box.

The mating habits of these birds are minimal. While the male Black-capped will chase other males from their territory and some mate feeding may be observed, there is no real major courtship display.

They may have several different nest site locations excavated before selecting the one they use. Should predators become a problem, the nesting pair will abandon the nest and build a new one some distance away.

The female Black-capped will build the nest using moss and soft materials, taking about 4-5 days to complete. She will lay about six to 10 eggs that are white with speckles and she alone will incubate them for about 12 days.

Clutch sizes are large for a small bird, because they typically lay one clutch in early spring. Some years they will lay two clutches.

During the incubation time the male will feed her. The Male Black-capped calls her from the nest, at which time she leaves the nest and he feeds her. Sometimes the female will leave the nest and call the male, and he will bring food to her.

Although the female will feed on her own occasionally.

After the young hatch, the female will brood the young for the first few days. During this time the male chickadee continues to bring food. After brooding, both the male and female share equally in feeding the young birds. The young will leave the nest in about 16 days. In about 10 days after fledging the parent birds will no longer feed their offspring. 1 - 2 broods raised each season.

Feeding Habits:

The Black Capped Chickadee's diet consist of insects, seeds and berries. Eating large amounts of insect eggs and larvae. Often you'll see them hanging on the undersides of branches looking for insects.

Surprising to many, about 50 percent of their winter feeding habit is animal material (largely insects and insect larvae and egg cases) and up to 80 percent of their summer diet is animal. With a penchant for small caterpillars, chickadees do a great service by feeding on such pests as spruce budworms and cankerworms.

These birds cache their food, storing both seeds and insects, singly, in crevices or under structures on the ground such as twigs. They are able to find them up to a month later, and when several caches are available, they spend more time seeking those that contain greater energy value.

You can attract these birds to your bird feeder by using a suet feeder or by using black oil sunflower seed and peanut pieces.

By watching these birds you'll notice that only one bird feeds at a time. If using sunflower seed consider using a Squirrel Proof Feeder to your bird feeding station.

Watch as the Black-capped chickadee takes one seed, flies to a nearby perch and eat the seed before retuning for the next. The most dominate birds feed first, while sub-dominate birds wait before feeding.

Late Summer And Winter Habits:

After the young have left, Black-capped chickadees gather into small flocks of a dozen or less, remaining on or near their breeding ground throughout the winter.

Each flock contains some juveniles, some adult pairs, and some single adults. The flocks form around a dominate pair and establish a feeding territory which it defends against other flocks.

Chickadees have a longevity record of about eleven years, but the average life span in the wild is about two and one-half years.

In more northern regions during cold weather, Black-capped chickadees (as well as other birds) often puff out their plumage, looking like a fat ball of feathers. This is a heat conserving mechanism as more air is trapped around the down feathers which increases insulation and prevents the loss of body heat.

They also can constrict blood vessels to the skin, which further reduces heat loss. If these mechanisms are not sufficient to maintain their body temperature (about 110 degrees F.), they can generate additional heat by shivering, but this is only a temporary measure as it requires metabolism of food reserves.

During cold winter nights when temperatures drop and food reserves are low, chickadees have a final trick up their sleeve, they enter a state of torpor. This depresses bodily functions, including breathing and metabolism, and drops body temperature about ten degrees. This significantly decreases the need for food reserves

These small flocks are joined by other species of birds as they move through their territory. Some of these others are: Downy Woodpeckers, Tufted Titmice, and White-Breasted Nuthatches.

The flock stays together from August through February. After which, the Black-capped chickadee begin a new season.

Carolina chickadee: (Parus carolinensis)

This species is similar to the Black-capped, but a bit smaller coming in at 4 3/4 inches in length.

As its cousin to the North, Carolina chickadees have the black cap, bib and white cheeks.

The feathers on the Carolina species are all gray and has a clean cut bib.

The best way to tell the difference is your location and the song.

While their ranges do over lap, Black-caps have a two note song with the first note slightly higher. Carolina species have a four note sound with the first and third note being much higher.

Where ranges cross, hybrids between the two species occur and songs may consist of differing notes.

Everything else about the Carolina DEE-DEE-DEE is much the same as its cousin to the North.

Yes, a very friendly bird you want in your yard and gardens.

Chickadees are One of Many Common Birds

Put up a Bird House or Grow Your Own

Plant a Bird Garden

Native Trees Attract Birds

Shrubs for Food and Protection

Native Flowers Offer Food

Native Grasses for Food and Protection

Feeding Birds

Water is a Must

Add a Feeder or Two

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