The black-capped chickadee is a cheerful, tiny bird that graces woodlands and bird feeders across North America. You might wonder how to tell a male and female chickadee apart, given their similarities. A few clues help identify chickadee gender.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
A male and female chickadee can be hard to tell apart. There are subtle differences in their bibs, and their behaviors help distinguish their gender.
Facts About Chickadees
The scientific name for the black-capped chickadee is Poecile atricapillus. Chickadees are wee birds, ranging from 4.75 to as much as 5.9 inches in length. Their wings stretch up to 8.5 inches.
Chickadee bodies look somewhat spherical in shape. Their tails are long and slim, and they have short, black bills. They possess a black “cap” of feathers, their cheeks are white and they have gray backs and wings with white edges. Their black eyes match their caps.
Chickadees are social birds that live in small flocks. They also associate with other small bird species such as kinglets, nuthatches, creepers, vireos, warblers, titmice and various woodpeckers.
Habitats for chickadees include mature, deciduous forests, open woods and edges, parks, fields and suburbs. Favorite trees include willows, cottonwoods and alders. You can hear their distinctive call as a chick-a-dee-dee-dee. Chickadees do not migrate in the manner of migratory birds but do shift about their range according to food availability.
Common Chickadee Food Sources
Chickadees are omnivores; their food derives from both plant and animal sources. Their high metabolism requires a constant diet of food to withstand the cold of winter. Chickadee food from animals consists of insects and their larvae, snails, spiders, mites, ants and animal fat from carcasses.
Chickadees get food from surfaces. They also hang upside down to reach some sources, and occasionally they even hover to catch insects in the air.
Plant sources of chickadee food include seeds, berries, vegetables and other plant parts. At bird feeders, chickadees enjoy sunflower seeds, suet, peanut butter, peanuts and mealworms. Providing chickadees with a feeder offers them good year-round food sources, while people can enjoy their acrobatic antics.
One interesting behavior chickadees display with their food is their method of caching. Chickadees store food in various locations such as the crevices in bark. Their sharp memories aid them in finding these caches as needed.
Differences Between the Male and Female Chickadee
Chickadees are considered monomorphic. This means that the male and female chickadee can be hard to tell apart in the field. Their plumage looks nearly identical. There are, however, subtle cues to look for, particularly in breeding season.
The male chickadee has a larger black bib than a female chickadee. Often, this is the only distinguishing physical characteristic that sets a male and female chickadee apart by sheer observation.
There are, however, behaviors that can reveal the gender of a chickadee. The female chickadee, for example, is the only one that builds a nest. She may excavate a hole or take over an abandoned cavity from another species. The female chickadee will then construct her cup-shaped nest from found materials such as feathers, bark, grasses, mosses, hair and other materials.
The female chickadee will lay between six and eight eggs on average. She is the only one of the pair who incubates the eggs; therefore if you see a chickadee on a nest, you will know it is a female chickadee. Males bring food to females and later to their young. Females live about 1.5 years, and males live about 1.8 years.
Providing a Chickadee Bird House
If you enjoy the vibrant little chickadee, you might want to offer a chickadee bird house. This can be made as a nest box to appeal to breeding pairs. Position the chickadee bird house prior to the breeding season.
A chickadee bird house should be lined with sawdust or wood shavings. Place the bird house about 60 feet into a wooded habitat, and put a guard on it to detract predators. The entrance to the bird house should be unobstructed.
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Birds of North America: Black-Capped Chickadee
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds: Black-Capped Chickadee Identification
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds: Black-Capped Chickadee Life History
- Audubon Society: Black-Capped Chickadee
- Penn State New Kensington Virtual Nature Trail: Black Capped Chickadee
- chickadee image by Bruce MacQueen from Fotolia.com