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Carolina Chickadee

(Parus carolinensis)
Banded October 1, 1997 - Carmel, Indiana

General Information

The Carolina Chickadee is one of the 7 chickadee species that occurs in North America. This species is found in the southeastern USA. Its range adjoins and in some areas overlaps that of the more northerly Black-capped Chickadee found in the northern USA, Canada and Alaska. Where the ranges of these two species overlap, some hybridization does occur. Here in Indiana, the Black-capped occurs in the northern region of the State, and the Carolina Chickadee occurs in the southern portions of the State. The boundary for the two species runs roughly SW to NE across the northern part of the State.

 

The black cap and bib on white cheeks are a sure field mark of the Chickadee. Banding studies here at Chipper Woods show that individuals of this species are resident year round.

Carolina Chickadee
Figure 1 - Carolina Chickadee

 

Carolina Chickadee
Figure 2 - Carolina Chickadee

 

Carolina Chickadees are popular with backyard bird feeding enthusiasts. They are omnivorous with a diet consisting of seeds of ragweed, mulberry, pine, redbud and sunflowers, and of insects such as aphids, treehoppers, ants, bees and others.

Sexes are similar. Pairs remain mated for long periods that may last over two or more nesting seasons. Banding studies show that the Chickadee may live more than 10 years.

Carolina Chickadee
Figure 3 - Carolina Chickadee

 

Carolina Chickadee
Figure 4 - Carolina Chickadee

 

These birds are cavity nesters. See the section on Nesting Behavior below for details.

The Carolina Chickadee lacks the broad white edging on the secondary flight feathers that is found on the Black-capped Chickadee.

Upper Wing
Figure 5 - Upper Wing

 

Upperwing Coverts
Figure 6 - Upperwing Coverts

 

Tertials and greater coverts also lack the broad white edging found in the Black-capped Chickadee.

Perhaps the easiest way to separate the Black-capped from the Carolina Chickadee is by the song. The Black-capped song is two or sometimes three notes (fee-bee). The Carolina’s song is four notes (fee-bee, fee-bay).

 

Primary Flight Feathers
Figure 7 - Primary Flight Feathers

 

Underwing Coverts
Figure 8 - Underwing Coverts

 

The flanks are gray to brownish gray.

In the hand, especially in areas where hybrids occur, the wing chord and tail measurements are useful to separate these two species. Black-caps generally have a longer tail and longer wing cord.

Tail Feathers
Figure 9 - Tail Feathers

 

Nesting Behavior

These birds are cavity nesters. A woodpecker cavity, nest box or other suitable cavity may be used. In decayed wood, both parents may excavate their own cavity. The female incubates from 5 to as many as 8 eggs that hatch in about 2 weeks. Both parents care for the young that leave the nest in about two and a half weeks.

Banding Recoveries

According to records at the Bird Banding Laboratory in Laurel, MD, a total of 70,334 Carolina Chickadees have been banded since 1955. Of these, 1,481 have been recovered, a recovery rate of 2.10%.

Conservation Status

Populations of Carolina Chickadees are declining in many parts of its range. In other areas, however, populations seem to be increasing. The popularity of this species with back yard feeding enthusiasts no doubt helps to increase local populations. They readily come to feeders to take sunflower seeds, suet and other items. They are attractive, intelligent, vocal birds, and their antics make them delightful to observe. As with other cavity nesters, however, the removal of dead and dying trees reduces the number of available nesting sites and has a negative impact on populations sizes.

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