In Scope: Black-Capped Chickadee

Black Capped Chickadee Oil Pastel


And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly and swarm with living creatures, and let birds fly over the earth in the open expanse of the heavens. ~ Genesis 1:20



   One of the cutest garden birds is the little chickadee.  With their funny personalities and delightful antics, chickadees are like little clowns that brighten the gray winter days. There are many species of chickadees.  For the month of February I am featuring the most common species of chickadee in our area ~ the Black-capped Chickadee.  We also have regular visits from Chestnut-backed Chickadees.

    Chickadees are year round residents in our area, but I have chosen to feature them in winter because that is when we see them at our feeders the most.  Just like the Dark-eyed Junco, whom I wrote about last month, the Black-capped Chickadee should be considered the gardener's best friend for their superb insect, pest and weed control capabilities!  There are so many wonderful things about chickadees ~ let's learn more about this fascinating species.

Interesting Facts

Did you know....

  • Unlike jays, who pile up caches of food for the winter and often forget them, the Black-capped Chickadee store single pieces of food in many different places.  Chickadees remember where each piece is located and go back to retrieve their stashes from thousands of different places when they need it.


  • Studies have shown that in the brain of a chickadee, old brain neurons (nerve cells) that store old information die off each fall and new neurons are formed to store new information.  This helps them, among other things, to remember where all their new food caches are and to rid themselves of old information that is no longer needed.  Click here to learn more!


  • Many birds in the garden, including the Black-capped Chickadee are considered 'passerines' ~ meaning perching birds.


  • A chickadee's heart beats 500 times per minute while they are asleep.  During activity, their heart rate will increase to 1000 beats per minute.

God Thought of It First!

  • There are many pest and weed control products on the market today.  But did you know that God thought of the best and most natural way to control the populations of insects and weeds before anyone else? Chickadees are some of the best birds for the job.  Among the pests that they eat is the cankerworm.  Although chickadees are small in size, weighing less than 1/2 an ounce, they consume large amounts of insect pests every day.  Great things really do come in small packages!

Feeding and Gardening For Chickadees

    Black-capped Chickadees love a variety of feeder foods.  Here are a few suggestions for treats that I have seen them enjoy:

Peanuts and peanut butter (they also like other kinds of nuts and nut butters)

Sunflower seeds

Suet  (They like most kinds of suet mixtures ~ suet with peanut butter, corn and sunflower seeds are good choices.  They also like bugged (also known as "insect enriched") suet if you are not to queasy about handling such items!)

Cornmeal mixtures (like a cornmeal/peanut butter dough)

   When offering foods such as these for chickadees to enjoy, keep in mind how they naturally forage.  Chickadees like to stay in trees most of the time as opposed to junco's who spend most of their time on the ground.  Because of their natural feeding habits, chickadees will make use of most hanging feeders like hopper, tube or hanging suet feeders.  They will also use a tray feeder that is higher off the ground.  Chickadees also enjoy a bird bath for drinking and bathing.  Even in the winter, a continually unfrozen source of water is a big draw for many birds.


    Chickadees are easy to please when it comes to making a habitat for them in your garden.  Since they are year round friends in many areas, they will enjoy both your feeders and garden year round.  Keep in mind two criteria when choosing plants for any bird ~ cover and food.  Chickadees like to eat nuts, seeds, berries and insects.  They like to scour the trees and plants for such items and will use trees and cavities in even dead, rotten snags as a night roost or nest cavity.  One of their favorite foods is pine nuts from cone bearing evergreens.

pine cone branch


     Take a look at the list of plants below that Black-capped Chickadees enjoy!


Plant List

1.  Cone bearing evergreen trees (for excellent cover and pine nuts for chickadee food.  These as well as other trees will also be scoured by chickadees for insects living on their leaves and branches.)

2.  Berry producing bushes and trees (both for cover and food ~ holly is a great choice)

3.  Birdseed patch (Especially sunflowers for chickadees, but also millet and milo.  This patch can be planted by simply sowing a bird seed mix that you fill your feeders with ~ yes it really will grow !)

4.  Deciduous Trees (Many trees are appealing to birds for cover and places to find insect food.  Some of these trees also provide seeds, nuts and acorns for chickadees to glean.)


deciduous green tree png

        Avoiding the use of pesticides and herbicides as much as possible will automatically increase the number of birds that visit your garden.  Birds are great for pest and weed control.  The chickadees and many other birds will thank you for not using these chemicals by doing their part to keep the insect pests and weeds in check.


Zoom In: Species Profile


chickadee upclose 



    The Black-capped Chickadee's scientific name is Parus atricapillus.  These tiny birds are only 4 3/4 - 5 3/4 inches (12 - 15 cm) in length.  Both male and female look alike, having a black cap (hence the name) and black throat, white cheeks, gray back and wings, buff colored sides and white underside.  Their wings are also edged in white.

    The name 'chickadee' comes from the sound they make.  Their most common calls are 'chick-a-dee-dee-dee' and a whistle that sounds much like 'fee-bee'.  You will most likely recognize these calls as common sounds that you hear in your garden.

    The Black-capped Chickadees diet varies with the seasons.  In winter, their diet consists of about 50% percent seed, berries and other plant matter and about 50% percent animal (insects, suet, etc.).  In the spring through fall however, animal fat and protein (insects, suet, etc.) makes up the majority of what chickadees eat.


    The preferred habitat of the Black-capped Chickadee is deciduous and deciduous/coniferous mixed forests and woodlands.  They also like parks, thickets and residential areas like backyard gardens.

    Chickadees are cavity nesters, meaning they will excavate their own cavity for a nest in the soft or rotten wood of some trees and snags.  They will also use a cavity previously excavated by a woodpecker or sometimes a manmade nest box.  Inside the cavity they will create a small cup of fur, grass, moss, other plant material and feathers.  The female Black-capped Chickadee lays 6 - 8 white eggs with brown speckles.


bird house and vine

          Black-capped Chickadees are a delight to watch.  They are active and lively and are always busy about finding food.  If you watch them for any period of time, you might even see them hang upside down to reach conifer seeds and other food that would be just out of reach without this acrobatic capability.  They are also very friendly little birds, often enjoying the company of a mixed flock of other species of small birds, especially in the winter.

    The Black-capped Chickadee is a year round resident within most of its range.  They live year round from Alaska, much of Canada and Newfoundland, the Northern United States, south to the northern parts of California, New Mexico, Missouri and New Jersey.  They are winter residents in Maryland and Texas.

Activity Pages

Be sure to check out this month's activity pages including a Black-capped Chickadee coloring page and maze...
click here to download.


    This month, I was thinking on a few verses from Psalm 148:7-13 which says,

    "Praise The Lord from the earth, you sea creatures and all deeps!
    You lightening, hail, fog and frost, you stormy wind fulfilling His orders!
    Mountains and all hills, fruitful trees and all cedars!  Beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!
    Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers and judges of the earth!
    Both young men and maidens, old men and children!
    Let them praise and exalt the name of The Lord, for His name is exalted and supreme!  His glory and majesty are above earth and heaven!"

    Every created thing praises The Lord, and we are to do the same.  God is so great and worthy of all of our praise.  It is a marvel to me how God has created each species of bird to live perfectly functioning in their particular habitat ~ living their lives to the glory of His Name.  All of creation reflects and points to The Lord and His awesome wisdom in creating them.  When I look at God's creation in all its beauty, I cannot help but think of Him.

    I hope you have enjoyed this edition of In Scope.  Join me again next month as we set our sights and our binoculars on God's amazing birds of spring!

    By, Jessi Wasell