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Black-capped Chickadee
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Paridae
Genus: Poecile
Species: P. atricapillus
Binomial name
Poecile atricapillus
(Linnaeus, 1766)
Synonyms

Parus atricapillus

The Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) is a small, common songbird, a passerine bird in the tit family Paridae. It is the state bird of both Maine and Massachusetts, and the provincial bird of New Brunswick in Canada.

Contents

Taxonomy

Though often placed in the genus Parus with most other tits, mtDNA cytochrome b sequence data and morphology suggest that separating Poecile more adequately expresses these birds' relationships (Gill et al., 2005). The American Ornithologists' Union has treated Poecile as a distinct genus for some time.

The genus name Poecile has often been treated as feminine (giving the species name ending atricapilla); however, this was not specified by the original genus author Johann Jakob Kaup, and under the ICZN the genus name must therefore be treated by default as masculine, giving the name ending atricapillus (del Hoyo et al. 2007).

Description

The Black-capped Chickadee has a black cap and bib with white sides to the face. Its underparts are white with rusty brown on the flanks; its back is gray. It has a short dark bill, short wings and a long tail. The tail is normally primarily slate-gray but has been observed in central New Jersey in 2008 to be completely white and seemingly longer and more prominent than the normal gray tail. At least one other such white tail has been observed as a documented change occurring in one individual (banded) bird. [1]

Distribution and habitat

The breeding habitat of the Black-capped Chickadee is mixed or deciduous woods in Canada, Alaska and the northern United States. The Black-capped and Carolina chickadees are virtually impossible to tell apart visually, but they are readily distinguished by call. Their point of overlap is near New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Behavior

They are permanent residents, but sometimes move south within their range in winter. On cold winter nights, these birds reduce their body temperature by up to 10-12 °C to conserve energy.

During the fall migration and winter, chickadees often flock together. Many other species of birds – including titmice, nuthatches, and warblers – can often be found foraging in these flocks. Mixed flocks stay together because the chickadees call out whenever they find a good source of food. This calling-out forms cohesion for the group, allowing the other birds to find food more efficiently. When flocking, Black-capped Chickadees soon establish a rigid social hierarchy.

In sparsely populated rural or forested areas, chickadees are often less wary than in urban settings. They may be observed exhibiting a sense of curiosity about the unfamiliar human activity within their habitat.

Chickadee at feeder.
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Vocalization

The vocalizations of the Black-capped Chickadees are highly complex (Ficken et al., 1978). 13 distinct types of vocalizations have been classified, many of which are complex and can communicate different types of information. Chickadees' complex vocalizations are likely an evolutionary adaptation to their habitat: they live and feed in dense vegetation, and even when the flock is close together, individual birds tend to be out of each others' visual range.

Black-capped Chickadee, Iona Beach Regional Park

The song of the Black-capped is a simple, clear whistle of two notes, identical in rhythm, the first roughly a third above the second. This is distinguished from the Carolina chickadee's four-note call fee-bee fee-bay; the lower notes are nearly identical but the higher fee notes are omitted, making the Black-capped song like bee bay.

Problems listening to this file? See media help.

The males sing the song only in relative isolation from other chickadees (including their mates). In late summer, some young birds will sing only a single note. Both sexes sometimes make a faint version of the song, and this appears to be used when feeding young.

The most familiar call is the familiar chick-a-dee-dee-dee which gave this bird its name. This simple-sounding call is astonishingly complex. It has been observed to consist of up to four distinct units which can be arranged in different patterns to communicate information about threats from predators and coordination of group movement. Recent study of the call shows that the number of dees indicates the level of threat from nearby predators. An analysis of over 5,000 alarm calls from chickadees, it was found that alarm calls triggered by small, dangerous raptors had a shorter interval between chick and dee and tended to have extra dees, usually averaging four instead of two. In one case, a warning call about a pygmy owl – a prime threat to chickadees – contained 23 dees (Templeton et al., 2005). The Carolina Chickadee makes a similar call which is faster and higher-pitched.

There are a number of other calls and sounds that these Chickadees make, such as a gargle noise usually used by males to indicate a threat of attacking another male, often when feeding. This call is also used in sexual contexts. This noise is among the most complex of the calls, containing 2 to 9 of 14 distinct notes in one population that was studied.

Diet

Chickadees will take food from feeders and trays over to a tree branch to hammer them open.

These birds hop along tree branches searching for food, sometimes hanging upside down or hovering; they may make short flights to catch insects in the air. Insects form a large part of their diet, especially in summer; seeds and berries become important in winter. Black oil sunflower seeds are quickly taken from an urban bird feeder. They sometimes hammer seeds on a tree or shrub to open them; they also will store seeds for later use.

During the winter, many individuals accustomed to human habitation will readily accept seed from a person's hand.

Reproduction

The Black-capped Chickadee nests in a hole in a tree; the pair excavates the nest, using a natural cavity or sometimes an old woodpecker nest. This Chickadee will also nest in a nesting box. It may interbreed with Carolina Chickadees or Mountain Chickadees where their ranges overlap.

Trivia

References

  • BirdLife International (2004). Poecile atricapilla. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. www.iucnredlist.org. Retrieved on 12 May 2006. Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern
  • Ficken, M.S., Ficken, R. W., & Witkin, S. R. (1978). Vocal repertoire of the Black-capped Chickadee. Auk 95 (1): 34-48. PDF fulltext
  • Del Hoyo, J., Elliot, A., & Christie D. (eds). (2007). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 12: Picathartes to Tits and Chickadees. Lynx Edicions. ISBN 9788496553422
  • Gill, F. B., Slikas, B., & Sheldon, F. H. (2005). Phylogeny of titmice (Paridae): II. Species relationships based on sequences of the mitochondrial cytochrome-b gene. Auk 122: 121-143. DOI: 10.1642/0004-8038(2005)122[0121:POTPIS]2.0.CO;2 HTML abstract
  • Smith, S. M. (1991): The black-capped Chickadee: Behavioural Ecology and Natural History. Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-2382-1 (1991 reprint)
  • Templeton, C. N., Greene, E., & Davis, K. (2005). Allometry of alarm calls: black-capped chickadees encode information about predator size. Science 308 (5730): 1934-1937. PMID 15976305 doi:10.1126/science.1108841 (HTML abstract)

External links


Simple English

Black-capped Chickadee
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Paridae
Genus: Poecile
Species: P. atricapillus
Binomial name
Poecile atricapillus
(Linnaeus, 1766)
Synonyms

Parus atricapillus

The Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) is a passerine songbird of the family Paridae. It lives in Canada, Alaska and the northern United States. This is a small, common bird which sings a simple song.

Contents

Appearance

The Black-capped Chickadee is about 12-15 cm (5-6 in) long and weighs 9-15 g (0.32-0.49 oz).[1]

The male and female black-capped chickadees look the same.[1] The black-capped chickadee has black and white on its head. The top of the head and throat are black, and the sides are white. It has a short, black beak.

The back of the body of the black-capped chickadee is gray. The front of the body is white and light brown. The bird has short wings and a short tail.

Song

The song of the black-capped chickadee is a clear whistle.

Behavior

In the summer, Black-capped Chickadees eat many insects. In the winter, they eat seeds and berries. They will hide seeds in different places and return later to eat them.[1] When two chickadees want to build a nest, they will use a hole in a tree.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 All About Birds: Black-capped Chickadee., Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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