Common Name: Black-capped Chickadee
Latin Name: Poecile atricapillus
Size: 12-15cm in length – smaller than a sparrow
Sounds: Chickadees have a variety of sounds including ones that sound like they might be saying cheeseburger, I did-it, Hey baby and the sound for which they are named, chicka-dee-dee-dee-dee
Habitat, Diet and Ecosystem Role
Range: A year-round resident coast to coast in Canada and across much of the United States
Habitat: Found primarily in deciduous and mixed forests, cottonwood groves, parks and in human dominated areas including a frequent visitor to backyards.
Diet: Insects, spiders and other animal material in the summer with a switch to berries, seeds, nuts, frozen insects and spiders in the winter.
Ecosystem role: Chickadees are excellent insect and spider control, particularly during nesting. In the short time it takes to get chicks out of the nest (about 3 weeks), chickadees will need between 5000-9000 insects to feed their brood! Caterpillars, aphids and spiders make up much of this diet but they aren’t overly picky.
Black-capped Chickadee - B. Lefebvre
Boreal Chickadee - D. Arndt
Mountain chickadee - D. Arndt
Chickadees are social birds often flocking together with other species during the winter including nuthatches and woodpeckers. They are also one of the friendliest backyard birds staying close while people are around. They learn the alarm calls of other birds and use it to their advantage to hide from incoming predators.
In the fall and winter, the brain of chickadees actually gets bigger! In order to remember where they cache thousands of seeds the part of the brain responsible for spatial memory (the hippocampus) actually grows. Studies have shown that chickadees can remember the location of seeds a month after they have cached them! Seeds are stored underneath tree bark, in tall hollow stems and clusters of pine needles and any other nooks and crannies they can find.
Chickadees are one of the first birds to nest in the spring and can easily be enticed to use nest boxes in yards. If looking to attract chickadees, ensure the hole size on the house is 1-1/8" big. If it is too big nest predators including house sparrows can get in and destroy the nest.
Chickadees usually only have one clutch per season with both parents caring for between 1-13 chicks! The chicks are only in the nest for around 2 weeks before fledging but in that time they will consume between 5000-9000 invertebrates including spiders, caterpillars and aphids. Nest success depends on invertebrate availability so hold off on the insect control, they will do it for you!
There are three species of chickadees found in Calgary. Aside from black-capped chickadees, the city is home to boreal and mountain chickadees
The chickadee-dee-dee call is used for multiple signals including an alarm call. The more rapid the call, the greater the danger. Next time you are walking in our natural areas, listen closely, they may be telling each other about you or it may be something else like an owl!
Chickadees hold a place in the traditional lives of the Dene people including the TsuuT'ina Nation near Calgary. Chickadees would help hunters find game and warn of potential dangers. By helping the hunters they would share part of their finds with the birds.
How are Black-capped Chickadees faring in Calgary?
Every May citizen scientists led by Nature Calgary perform a spring bird count. Not only do these counts help estimate the presence of birds now but over time these numbers can help identify trends in bird populations as the city continues to grow and change. The count covers an 80km radius from the center of the city as seen in the image below. To the right are population trend numbers for Black-capped Chickadees between 1979 and 2021
The Christmas Bird Count is another way that citizen scientists are helping keep track of birds across the world. Every year people are invited to document birds both in their yards and while they are out over a specific 24 hour period in December. This past December, 2140 Black-capped Chickadees were recorded, a 12% increase over the 10 year average.