Index of Species Information
WILDLIFE SPECIES: Poecile atricapillus
WILDLIFE SPECIES: Poecile atricapillus
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION :
Sullivan, Janet. 1995. Poecile atricapillus. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online].
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service,
Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer).
Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/ .
COMMON NAMES :
The currently accepted scientific name for the black-capped chickadee is
Poecile atricapillus Linnaeus . The 1957 A.O.U. checklist  (the
last one that included subspecies) listed nine subspecies of the
Poecile atricapillus atricapillus, eastern black-capped chickadee
P. a. practicus (Oberholser), Appalachian black-capped chickadee
P. a. bartletti Aldrich and Nutt., Newfoundland black-capped chickadee
P. a. turneri Ridgway, Yukon black-capped chickadee
P. a. septentrionalis Harris, long-tailed chickadee
P. a. occidentalis Baird, Oregon chickadee
P. a. fortuitus (Dawson and Bowles), Columbian black-capped chickadee
P. a. nevadensis (Linsdale), pallid black-capped chickadee
P. a. garrinus Behle, Rocky Mountain black-capped chickadee
Where the range of the black-capped chickadee overlaps that of other
chickadees (Poecile spp.) they are segregated by habitat. There are some
areas of breeding territory which the black-capped chickadee and the
Carolina chickadee (P. carolinensis) both use; in this area hybrids of
the two species commonly occur. There is some disagreement as to the
true status of the Carolina chickadee; it has been argued that it is a
subspecies of the black-capped chickadee rather than a separate species.
The most recent genetic evidence suggests that they are in fact separate
species. Hybrids with the mountain chickadee (P. gambeli) have also
been reported but are less common than black-capped chickadee-Carolina
chickadee hybrids .
FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS :
No special status
OTHER STATUS :
WILDLIFE DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE
WILDLIFE SPECIES: Poecile atricapillus
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION :
The black-capped chickadee is resident from western and central Alaska,
most of Canada south of the arctic circle, south to extreme northwestern
California, extreme northeastern Nevada, northern New Mexico, central
Indiana, and northern New Jersey. At upper elevations in the
Appalachians its range extends farther south [6,31].
FRES10 White-red-jack pine
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES22 Western white pine
FRES24 Hemlock-Sitka spruce
FRES26 Lodgepole pine
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :
1 Northern Pacific Border
2 Cascade Mountains
5 Columbia Plateau
6 Upper Basin and Range
8 Northern Rocky Mountains
9 Middle Rocky Mountains
10 Wyoming Basin
11 Southern Rocky Mountains
12 Colorado Plateau
13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont
14 Great Plains
15 Black Hills Uplift
16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands
KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS :
K001 Spruce-cedar-hemlock forest
K002 Cedar-hemlock-Douglas-fir forest
K003 Silver fir-Douglas-fir forest
K004 Fir-hemlock forest
K005 Mixed conifer forest
K008 Lodgepole pine-subalpine forest
K010 Ponderosa shrub forest
K011 Western ponderosa forest
K012 Douglas-fir forest
K013 Cedar-hemlock-pine forest
K014 Grand fir-Douglas-fir forest
K015 Western spruce-fir forest
K016 Eastern ponderosa forest
K017 Black Hills pine forest
K018 Pine-Douglas-fir forest
K019 Arizona pine forest
K020 Spruce-fir-Douglas-fir forest
K021 Southwestern spruce-fir forest
K022 Great Basin pine forest
K028 Mosaic of K002 and K026
K029 California mixed evergreen forest
K081 Oak savanna
K082 Mosaic of K074 and K100
K093 Great Lakes spruce-fir forest
K094 Conifer bog
K095 Great Lakes pine forest
K096 Northeastern spruce-fir forest
K097 Southeastern spruce-fir forest
K098 Northern floodplain forest
K099 Maple-basswood forest
K100 Oak-hickory forest
K101 Elm-ash forest
K109 Transition between K104 and K106
SAF COVER TYPES :
1 Jack pine
5 Balsam fir
12 Black spruce
13 Black spruce-tamarack
14 Northern pin oak
15 Red pine
17 Pin cherry
18 Paper birch
19 Gray birch-red maple
20 White pine-northern red oak-red maple
21 Eastern white pine
22 White pine-hemlock
23 Eastern hemlock
24 Hemlock-yellow birch
25 Sugar maple-beech-yellow birch
26 Sugar maple-basswood
27 Sugar maple
28 Black cherry-maple
30 Red spruce-yellow birch
31 Red spruce-sugar maple-beech
32 Red spruce
33 Red spruce-balsam fir
34 Red spruce-Fraser fir
35 Paper birch-red spruce-balsam fir
37 Northern white-cedar
39 Black ash-American elm-red maple
40 Post oak-blackjack oak
42 Bur oak
43 Bear oak
44 Chestnut oak
46 Eastern redcedar
50 Black locust
51 White pine-chestnut oak
52 White oak-black oak-northern red oak
53 White oak
55 Northern red oak
58 Yellow-poplar-eastern hemlock
59 Yellow-poplar-white oak-northern red oak
60 Beech-sugar maple
62 Silver maple-American elm
93 Sugarberry-American elm-green ash
94 Sycamore-sweetgum-American elm
95 Black willow
107 White spruce
108 Red maple
110 Black oak
201 White spruce
202 White spruce-paper birch
204 Black spruce
205 Mountain hemlock
206 Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir
210 Interior Douglas-fir
208 Whitebark pine
210 Interior Douglas-fir
211 White fir
212 Western larch
213 Grand fir
215 Western white pine
216 Blue spruce
218 Lodgepole pine
219 Limber pine
223 Sitka spruce
224 Western hemlock
225 Western hemlock-Sitka spruce
227 Western redcedar-western hemlock
228 Western redcedar
229 Pacific Douglas-fir
230 Douglas-fir-western hemlock
234 Douglas-fir-tanoak-Pacific madrone
237 Interior ponderosa pine
238 Western juniper
244 Pacific ponderosa pine-Douglas-fir
245 Pacific ponderosa pine
251 White spruce-aspen
253 Black spruce-white spruce
254 Black spruce-paper birch
SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES :
109 Ponderosa pine shrubland
110 Ponderosa pine-grassland
412 Juniper-pinyon woodland
PLANT COMMUNITIES :
Black-capped chickadee habitat includes evergreen forested wetlands,
deciduous forested wetlands , deciduous woodlands, mixed woodlands,
deciduous and coniferous forests, orchards, deciduous shrubs, urban and
suburban areas , and disturbed areas such as old fields. Favored
riparian communities include cottonwood (Populus spp.) and sometimes
willow (Salix spp.) thickets. Birches (Betula spp.) and alders (Alnus
spp.) are often used for both food and nesting, but black-capped
chickadees use a wide variety of other plant species as well.
Black-capped chickadees occur in many habitat types .
In western North Dakota black-capped chickadees forage in the canopy and
nest in cavities in cottonwood stands; they occupy ash (mostly green ash
[Fraxinus pennsylvanica]) woodland interiors, and are found in pine
(Pinus spp.) communities. Black-capped chickadees are common in dense
ponderosa pine (P. ponderosa) stands with well-developed shrub layers .
In the Konza Prairie, Kansas, black-capped chickadees were the second
most abundant species in gallery forests. These forests are dominated
by bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa), chinkapin oak (Q. muehlenbergii), and
hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) . Black-capped chickadees also occur
on adjacent prairie dominated by big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii),
little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), switchgrass (Panicum
virgatum), and indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans). The presence of
black-capped chickadees in grassland habitat was attributed to the
availability of isolated tree and shrub patches along ravines .
In Illinois black-capped chickadees were recorded in northern red oak
(Q. rubra)-sugar maple (Acer saccharum)-hackberry dominated woodlands .
BIOLOGICAL DATA AND HABITAT REQUIREMENTS
WILDLIFE SPECIES: Poecile atricapillus
TIMING OF MAJOR LIFE HISTORY EVENTS :
Pair Formation: The peak period for pair formation is fall and is
associated with winter flock formation; winter flocks consist largely of
mated pairs. Even very young black-capped chickadees form pair bonds at
this time. A few pairs are formed in winter following mortality of
high-ranking members of the flock, and occasionally floaters
(low-ranking individuals unattached to a mate or a flock) establish new
pair bonds in spring [30,31].
Territory Establishment: Territories are established in spring, during
winter flock break-up; this period varies with area, year, and other
factors. Breeding territory boundaries are usually established 5 to 7
weeks before onset of egg-laying [30,31].
Nesting: Both the male and female excavate the nest hole, but the
female builds the nest. The cup-shaped nest consists of cottony plant
fibers, hairs, wool, moss, and leaves, and is lined with hair, plant
down, wool, and feathers .
Clutch: Eggs are laid from early April to mid-July depending on spring
weather and food availability . Usually 1 egg is laid per day; the
average clutch size is from 6 to 8 eggs, ranging from 5 to 10. Eggs are
incubated for 12 to 13 days by the female, who is fed by the male .
All eggs usually hatch within 12 to 30 hours of each other, usually in
the order laid ; nestlings are present from early May to late July
Development of Young: Black-capped chickadees are altricial; newly
hatched young are blind and nearly naked. They have pinfeathers by
about day 9, and usually fledge on day 16. When nests are disturbed,
fledglings may leave the nest early, sometimes as early as 12 days.
Fledglings are fed by the parents for 2 to 4 weeks (3-4 weeks is
Longevity: Age at first breeding is typically less than 1 year,
although some individuals may not breed until they are 1 or 2 years old.
The average lifespan of black-capped chickadees is approximately 2.5
years; however, 5-year-old birds were not uncommon in northwestern
Connecticut . The longest lived black-capped chickadee on record
was at least 12 years 5 months at the time of last banding .
Mortality: Black-capped chickadees are fairly cold hardy; the majority
of black-capped chickadee mortality is believed to be caused by winter
malnutrition, which reduces the ability to withstand cold weather and
resist disease. There have been few major outbreaks of diseases in
black-capped chickadee populations and there are relatively few nest
Wintering: Wintering flocks of black-capped chickadees usually consist
of four to eight individuals . Black-capped chickadee residence in
cold climates is made possible by night torpor, a regulated hypothermia
which allows black-capped chickadees to survive cold nights with minimum
energy loss .
Seasonal Movements: Long-distance movements are usually only undertaken
by black-capped chickadees less than 1 year old. However, large numbers
of black-capped chickadees emigrate at irregular intervals of about 2
years. These movements are more properly termed irruptions than
seasonal migrations. Factors influencing irruptions, particularly in
the eastern portions of the black-capped chickadee range, include
fluctuation in northern seed crops and unusually high recruitment rates.
Fall movements tend to be south or southwest; spring movements are
usually northward but are sometimes aimless . Movement over water
is avoided or undertaken only with great hesitation [30,38].
PREFERRED HABITAT :
Black-capped chickadees prefer relatively open sites near deep woods
. They are usually more common near edges, but also occur in the
interior of wooded tracts . In Iowa most observations of
black-capped chickadees were in floodplain woodlands and scrub; fewer
black-capped chickadees were observed in upland woodlands, wooded edges,
and savannah (in descending order of numbers of observations).
Black-capped chickadee observations were positively correlated with
sapling and tree species richness, sapling and tree size, and vertical
patchiness. There was a negative correlation with vine density and with
snag hardness . In Saskatchewan black-capped chickadees were found
in aspen (Populus spp.) groves larger than 0.5 acre (0.2 ha) in area,
and did not occur in smaller groves . In Montana foliage-insect
feeders including black-capped chickadees were observed most often in
uncut forests. Black-capped chickadees fed primarily where foliage
canopy was well developed above 26.4 feet (8 m) .
Riparian communities are important to black-capped chickadees and other
gleaners (birds which search vegetation for stationary prey). Emerging
aquatic insects are a particularly valuable food for gleaners. Mayflies
and stoneflies spend most of the daylight hours resting on low
vegetation near the stream channel. The density of gleaners (in this
area black-capped chickadees were the most abundant gleaners) is
positively correlated with emergence rates of aquatic insects .
In Colorado black-capped chickadee nest site selection was positively
associated with density of small trees; in Missouri and Tennessee,
black-capped chickadees are reported to prefer small trees and young
open forest .
COVER REQUIREMENTS :
Nesting: Black-capped chickadees excavate holes in soft decayed wood
and also use existing cavities (but usually only if there is material to
be excavated) [30,31]. Dead standing trees greater than 4 inches (10
cm) dbh are used for nesting and feeding . In Illinois nests were
found in cavities of stubs (broken off snags). The stubs were usually 5
to 6.6 feet (1.6-2 m) tall and 4.3 to 5.1 inches (11-13 cm) in diameter
Common nest sites are stubs of gray birch (Betula populifolia) or paper
birch (B. papyrifera) , but almost any early seral species with soft
wood may be used; the particular tree species favored depends on the
region. Most of these trees occur as living trees in early seral
stages, are short-lived, and persist into intermediate seral stages as
decaying snags . For example, Odum  reported that of 18
black-capped chickadee nests he observed in upstate New York, 4 were in
pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica), 3 in paper birch, 3 in American beech
(Fagus grandifolia), 2 in yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis), 2 in
willows (Salix spp.), 1 in basswood (Tilia americana), 1 in sugar maple,
1 in white ash (Fraxinus americana), and 1 in an apple tree (Malus spp.)
. In Vermont northern hardwoods forests, most black-capped
chickadee nest trees were in an advanced state of decay with soft outer
wood. Most nests were in trees that were shorter than neighboring
non-nest trees, but no smaller in diameter . Nest trees used by
black-capped chickadees in northwestern Montana western larch (Larix
occidentalis)-Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) forests averaged 8
inches (20 cm) dbh and ranged from 4 to 12 inches (10-30.5 cm) dbh.
This was the smallest average diameter used by any of the cavity-nesting
birds observed . Most nests were in broken-topped larch trees .
In Iowa 92 percent of black-capped chickadee nests in riparian
communities were in snags, 4 percent were in dead limbs of living trees,
and 4 percent were in living trees. There was a positive association
between black-capped chickadee use and snag size in snags less than 9
inches (25 cm) dbh . In a riparian area in Colorado with a viable
black-capped chickadee population, snags are not plentiful but large
dead branches are. In an area dominated by plains cottonwood (Populus
deltoides var. occidentalis) with some peachleaf willow (S.
amygdaloides) and boxelder (Acer negundo), cottonwood snags comprised
2.7 percent of all cottonwood stems. This density of snags is quite
low, primarily due to the decadence of the stand. However, limb trees
(trees with more than 3.3 feet [1 m] of dead limbs greater than 4 inches
(10 cm) in diameter) made up 47 percent of the cottonwood population
In western Montana, McClelland and others  observed black-capped
chickadees using cavities excavated by sapsuckers (Sphyrapicus spp.)
. Birdhouses are used occasionally .
Roosting: Black-capped chickadees roost primarily in thick vegetation
or in cavities, particularly on cold nights. Flocks seldom roost
clumped together, but flock members usually roost near each other .
Foraging and Feeding: Flock members usually feed from 3.3 to 33 feet
(1-10 m) apart, occasionally feeding within 2.5 inches (6 cm) for brief
Breeding Territory: Black-capped chickadee breeding territory size
varies with habitat quality, black-capped chickadee population density,
rank, and the course of the breeding season . In upstate New York
breeding territories ranged in size from 8.4 acres (3.4 ha) to 17.1
acres (6.9 ha) and averaged 13.2 acres (5.3 ha) . An eastern
Massachusetts population had an average breeding territory size of 10.7
acres (4.3 ha), but ranged from 3.8 to 17.9 acres (1.5-7.2 ha) .
FOOD HABITS :
Foraging: Black-capped chickadees forage from ground to treetop; ground
foraging birds have usually been displaced by higher ranking birds .
Black-capped chickadees forage on tree trunks, branches, and foliage
, feeding on insects , seeds, and berries. Five basic foraging
maneuvers used by black-capped chickadees are 1) gleaning (57% of time
spent foraging), 2) hanging from leaf or twig to capture food items
(28%), 3) hovering (8.8%), 4) probing (3.5%), and 5) catching insects in
flight, called hawking (2.4%). These proportions probably vary with
availability of prey, season, and other factors .
Caching: Black-capped chickadees cache seeds from open cones .
Insects are also cached. Most caching occurs in the fall, but caching
may occur at any time food is plentiful. Storage sites include bark,
dead leaves, clusters of conifer needles, dirt, and snow. Black-capped
chickadees scatter-hoard; they hide each individual food item in a
separate spot . Sherry  reported that black-capped chickadees
can remember cache sites for at least 24 hours, and Hitchcock and Sherry
 reported that captive black-capped chickadees can recover caches
after 28 days.
Animal Foods: In winter, approximately 50 percent of black-capped
chickadee foods are animal foods, the rest seeds and berries. During
the breeding season, 80 to 90 percent of the black-capped chickadee diet
is animal foods [18,31]. Winter black-capped chickadee animal foods
consist mostly of eggs of moths, plant lice, katydids, and spiders. In
summer moths, caterpillars, spiders, beetles (particularly weevils),
flies, wasps, true bugs, plant lice, scale insects, leafhoppers, and
tree hoppers are common food items . Smith  described the
black-capped chickadee summer diet as consisting largely of
caterpillars, including some hairy caterpillars such as early instar
gypsy moths and tent caterpillars. Black-capped chickadees have been
observed taking animal fat from carrion and eating suet and peanut butter
at feeders .
Plant Foods: Black-capped chickadee plant foods are mainly seeds and
berries including goldenrods (Solidago spp.) and staghorn sumac (Rhus
typhina) seeds in fall. Pine seeds are a main staple in fall, winter,
and spring. Seeds of hemlocks (Tsuga spp.) and birches are eaten in
winter; seeds or fruits of poison-ivies (Toxicodendron spp.),
blueberries and huckleberries (Vaccinium spp.), bayberries (Myrica
spp.), ragweeds (Ambrosia spp.), sunflowers (Helianthus spp.),
chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), and Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus
quinquefolia) are eaten in spring and summer . Raspberries (Rubus
spp.), cherries (Prunus spp.), and yellow-poplar (Liriodendron
tulipifera) seeds are also consumed .
Fluids: Black-capped chickadees drink when water is available. Fluids
are derived mostly from foods in winter; highest demand for liquid water
is in summer .
Natural predators of the black-capped chickadee include goshawk
(Accipiter gentilis), sharp-shinned hawk (A. striatus), Cooper's hawk
(A. cooperii), American kestrel (Falco sparverius), merlin (F.
columbarius), northern pygmy-owl (Glaucidium gnoma), and northern shrike
(Lanius excubiter). Around birdfeeders, the black-capped chickadee is
often preyed on by the domestic cat (Felis catus). Nest predators are
largely excluded by the small size of black-capped chickadee nest
entrance holes, but very small squirrels (Tamiascurius spp.) or
chipmunks (Tamias spp.) occasionally raid black-capped chickadee nests.
Weasels (Mustela spp.) and climbing snakes pose a threat to eggs and
MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
A review of Christmas Bird Count data for the Pacific Northwest showed
that most black-capped chickadee populations have apparently been stable
during the past 40 years. Of 49 locales reporting, 6 showed significant
declines (stations in Alaska, British Columbia, Montana, and Oregon), 5
showed significant increases (British Columbia, California, Montana, and
Washington), and the remaining 38 showed no overall change. It was
speculated that the "significant" increases and decreases may actually
represent anomalous data .
Long-term wildlife management should strive for sites with a mosaic of
age structures . In northwestern Connecticut the clearcutting of 60
acres (24.4 ha) of red pine (Pinus resinosa) within a 321 acre (130 ha)
banding plot had no discernible effect on black-capped chickadee
populations in a long-term population study .
Forest clearing can increase edge, which is preferred (but not required)
black-capped chickadee habitat. Removal of snags and cull trees with
dead limbs decreases available nest sites for black-capped chickadees
[31,32], although black-capped chickadees are listed as tolerant of
habitat alteration .
Stauffer and Best  listed the following predicted effects of various
types of habitat alteration on black-capped chickadee populations:
removal of all wood vegetation: elimination
reduce woody vegetation to narrow strips: negative
woody canopy partly removed: no effect
woody canopy partly removed, shrubs and saplings thinned: negative
shrubs and saplings thinned: negative
snags removed: negative
Lack of cottonwood regeneration is detrimental to the long-term
stability of cavity-nesting bird populations .
In cold-winter areas, feeders often enhance black-capped chickadee
survival, particularly in disturbed areas where food supplies are
limited . Nest boxes can increase available nest sites where
natural cavities are limited. Nest boxes are not readily used unless
they are half-filled with sawdust, apparently so that the birds have
something to excavate .
Black-capped chickadees are only rarely host to the brown-headed cowbird
(Molothrus ater) .
Black-capped chickadees are important predators of larch casebearer
larvae and pine sawfly larvae .
FIRE EFFECTS AND USE
WILDLIFE SPECIES: Poecile atricapillus
DIRECT FIRE EFFECTS ON ANIMALS :
There is no information in the published literature concerning direct
mortality of black-capped chickadees from fire. It is likely that, like
most birds, black-capped chickadees can easily escape fire; any
substantial mortality is likely to occur only when severe fires occur
during the early breeding season.
HABITAT RELATED FIRE EFFECTS :
The most likely change due to fire in black-capped chickadee habitat is
with respect to snag density (nest site availability) and food
availability. Niemi  suggested that chickadee populations generally
decrease following fire, probably due to a decrease in habitat
complexity and available food.
In northern Rocky Mountain conifer forests that were severely burned
within 1 to 2 years of the study, black-capped chickadees were detected
on 13 of 33 sites. In a survey of bird habitat studies in northern
Rocky Mountain dryland habitats, segregated by habitat type,
black-capped chickadees were found on early successional (less than 10
years old) burned forest (48% of 23 studies), and mid-successional (10
to 40 years old) burned forest (40% of 5 studies). Studies reporting
observations of birds in cottonwood bottomlands had the highest
proportion of black-capped chickadee observations (64% of 21 studies).
Black-capped chickadees had a habitat preference average of 9.71 out of
15 possible habitats (if this figure were 1, a bird species is
restricted to only 1 of the 15 habitats, if the figure were 15, the
species has shown absolutely no preference for any of the available
habitat types) .
In northern Minnesota the Little Sioux fire burned 15,000 acres (6,072
ha) of northern hardwoods and pine forests. Black-capped chickadees
were common on unburned stands, but in postfire years 2, 3, and 4 they
were uncommon on all burned study sites .
In north-central Colorado a severe 1966 wildfire in lodgepole pine
(Pinus contorta) with subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa) and Engelmann
spruce (Picea engelmannii) resulted in widespread crown mortality. In
1974 there were many standing dead trees on the burned site. There were
no black-capped chickadees observed on the burned site, but there were a
few in the ecotone and in adjacent unburned lodgepole stands .
FIRE USE :
FIRE REGIMES :
Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this
species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under
"Find Fire Regimes".
WILDLIFE SPECIES: Poecile atricapillus
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