How to Recognize the Chickadee

If you are just starting out birdwatching, it can be helpful to know a few things about the birds you are looking for. This article will help you to identify the chickadee (Poecile atricapillus).


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    Look for the colors of the chickadee. The chickadee has the same colors in both winter and summer. The male and female are alike:
    • The top of the head is black — for which reason they are called black-capped chickadees, or black-capped tit mice — and the chin is of the same color, while the cheeks are clear white. Study the photo for clarity.
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    Listen for the chickadee. If you are not sure that you know the bird, stay near it till it pronounces its own name. It will be pretty certain to do it, sooner or later, especially if you excite it a little by squeaking or chirping to it. The best known sound is chick-a-dee-dee-dee. Another sound seems like the name "Phoebe" - it is a clear, sweet whistle of two or three notes with a minor interval between them. This is regarded by many observers as the bird's true song. If the whistle is learnt by a human, it is possible to deceive the bird into thinking you are another chickadee.
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    Look for the chickadee's nest. Chickadees build their nests in a hole. Usually they will look for a decayed stump or branch. If you are very lucky, you may get the chance to watch a pair of chickadees at work digging out the hole. They will carry away the chips and drop them at a little distance from the tree. They do this to remove evidence of their activity from any predators.
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    Watch for its charming trait. One of the chickadee's prettiest traits is its skill in hanging back down from the tip of a swinging branch or the underside of a leaf while in search of supplies.
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    Note if the bird is friendly. Chickadees are quite tame and will quickly share the crumbs from a meal eaten in their presence. They may even take food directly from your hands. If you have birdseed or suet, they are very partial to such tidbits.
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    Encourage the chickadee. During later winter and early spring, whistle the chirping notes explained above to the chickadee to try to encourage it to come near you. However, if you get the sound wrong, the chickadee may think you are being threatening and will respond by flying close and scolding with "dee-dee-dee". Offer it some food if you accidentally offend it.


  • Chickadees love sunflower seeds in their husks. Take some with you on winter walks or skis, in case you come across some hungry chickadees.
  • Chickadees can withstand very cold weather even though small and delicate-looking. The most important thing is that the chickadee gets enough food to eat during winter. Chickadees feed on tiny insects, insects' eggs and so on that they find in the crevices in the bark of trees and about the ends of twigs. This means that the chickadee is seldom without resources to consume, even during the deepest of winter because the snows cannot cover up the entire tree trunk.

Things You'll Need

  • Suitable bird food
  • Binoculars
  • Bird-watcher's notebook for recording notes and drawing illustrations
  • Camera for photos
  • Thermos of warm drink if birdwatching during winter, and warm clothing

Sources and Citations

  • Bradford Torrey, 1901, Everyday Birds: Elementary Studies, in the public domain. Original source of article.

Article Info

Categories: Birdwatching