Carolina chickadees (Poecile carolinensis) are small, inquisitive, and vocal songbirds with black, grey, and white feathers. They are non-migratory and can be found throughout the southeastern U.S in areas with mature woods, including older subdivisions and wooded urban areas. Despite their small size, Carolina chickadees are relatively fearless and are one of the species of birds that will commonly try to drive off predators such as hawks, owls, and snakes.
The diet of the Carolina chickadee varies throughout the year. During the winter, Carolina chickadees eat about 50% plant-based foods (seeds, berries, etc.) and 50% insects. They are frequent winter visitors to backyard birdfeeders, especially if the feeders contain black-oil sunflower seeds. In the spring and summer months, Carolina chickadees eat primarily spiders, caterpillars, and other “bugs.”
Carolina chickadees nest in tree cavities and only raise one set of young per year. The female builds the nest and lays 3 – 10 eggs that are white with brown speckles. She then incubates the eggs for approximately two weeks. Once the nestlings hatch, both parents will bring bugs (mostly caterpillars) back to the hungry young. The nestlings will leave the nest around 2.5 – 3 weeks after hatching.
In Kentucky, the Carolina chickadee is pretty much our only species of chickadee. However, the Carolina chickadee does have a close cousin, the black-capped chickadee that looks very similar. The best way to distinguish between the Carolina chickadee and the black-capped chickadee is by song and location.
The black-capped chickadee is found in the northern part of the U.S. and at higher elevations in the Appalachian Mountains. According to the Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Kentucky, the black-capped appears to be a rare, winter-visitor primarily to the northeastern part of Kentucky, although it can’t be ruled out as a possibility in the higher elevations of eastern Kentucky. In Tennessee, the black-capped chickadee is restricted to the higher elevations of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains. Our friends in Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio could have either species depending on whether they are in the northern or southern part of the state. To make matters even more complicated, the two species can hybridize where their ranges overlap.
No matter which species of chickadee you have, their energetic and vocal nature make them relatively easy to spot and fun to watch in your yard or in more natural areas. They are also an easy bird to attract to feeders during the winter and, if given the proper habitat, may even take up year-round residence in your yard.
- Information on building Carolina chickadee nest boxes
- Importance of native plants on survival of Carolina chickadee nestlings
- How to tell Carolina chickadees from black-capped chickadees
This article was part of Shannon’s original Kentucky Pollinators and Backyard Wildlife blog which evolved into the blog for Backyard Ecology.
Backyard Ecology: Creating Space for Pollinators and Wildlife
Nature isn’t just “out there.” It’s all around us, including right outside our doors. Hi, my name is Shannon Trimboli, and I am the host of Backyard Ecology. I live in southcentral Kentucky and am a wildlife biologist, educator, author, beekeeper, and owner of a nursery specializing in plants for pollinators and wildlife conservation. I started Backyard Ecology as a way to share my love of exploring nature and learning about different plants and animals. I invite you to join me as we ignite our curiosity and natural wonder, explore our yards and communities, and improve our local pollinator and wildlife habitat. Learn more or subscribe to my email list at www.backyardecology.net.