Bent Life History of the Black-capped Chickadee
Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.
Bent Life History for the Black-capped Chickadee - the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.
PARUS ATRICAPILLUS ATRICAPILLUS Linnaeus
CONTRIBUTED BY WINSOR MARRETT TYLER
The titmice, the family of birds to which the black-capped chickadee belongs, are widely distributed in the two hemispheres and in North America are represented by numerous genera, species, and races from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. Over this vast area, in England, on the continent of Europe, and with us they are well known and very popular birds.
For our black-capped chickadee of the Northeastern United States our regard goes far beyond popularity. The chickadee is perhaps the best-known bird in its range and appears so trustful of man that we look on it with real affection. And no wonder: for chickadees are such cheerful little birds. When we watch a flock of them in winter they remind us of a group of happy, innocent little children playing in the snow. Thinking back to the early days of New England's history, we can imagine that the Pilgrim Fathers, when the chickadees came about the settlement at Plymouth in 1620, watched them as we do now. They were, perhaps, the first friends to welcome the travelers to the New World.
Many writers praise the chickadee. Bradford Torrey (1889) says enthusiastically: "It would be a breach of good manners, an inexcusable ingratitude, to write ever so briefly of the New England winter without noting this [the chickadee], the most engaging and characteristic enlivener of our winter woods; who revels in snow and ice, and is never lacking in abundant measures of faith and cheerfulness, enough not only for himself, but for any chance wayfarer of our own kind." Elsewhere, Torrey (1885) calls the chickadee "the bird of the merry heart."
Spring: The black: capped chickadee is migratory to some extent, but, as in the case of some other permanent residents, it is often difficult, except at favorable observation points, to determine the time and extent of its northward and southward movements. Taverner and Swales (1908) state: "Our experience with the species at Detroit leads us to believe that it is more migrational than is generally supposed. They are common through the winter, but about the first of April the great bulk of them depart, leaving but a few scattered summer residents behind."
J. Van Tyne (1928) gives a vivid description of a definite migration. He says:
On May 20, 1928, while collecting at the tip of Sand Point (seven miles southwest of Caseville, Michigan), I witnessed a most interesting migration flight of Chickadees (Penthestes atricapillus). Sand Point juts out nearly four miles into Saginaw Bay from the southeast, and apparently forms an important point of departure for many species of birds migrating northward across the bay. The day was clear with but little wind. At 9:30 in the morning I noticed a compact flock of over fifty chickadees flitting rapidly through the brushy growth toward the end of the point. Their strange appearance immediately attracted my attention. They seemed very nervous and tense, with necks outstretched and feathers closely compressed against the body. They made no attempt to feed, but kept moving steadily toward the end of the point. Reaching the last tree, a twelve-foot sapling, the first birds flitted upward to the topmost twigs and there hesitated, lacking the courage to launch forth. But the rest of the flock, following close behind, in a few moments began to crowd upon them. Fairly pushed off the tree-top, the leaders finally launched forth, the rest following in rapid succession. They started upward at an angle of fully forty-five degrees. After climbing perhaps a hundred feet the leaders lost their courage, and, hesitating a moment, they all dropped precipitately back to the shelter of the bushes. But once there they immediately headed for the sapling again and repeated the performance. Finally, after several false starts, they continued out over the lake toward the Charity Islands in the distance.
It was a new experience to me to see chickadees fly by day out across miles of open water.
Courtship: The chickadee has apparently developed no ritual of courtship other than the pursuit of the female by the male: a common performance of many of the smaller birds. Chickadees are so common and so continually under our observation at close range that if they practiced any marked trait when pairing off, it would certainly have been noticed and described.
Dr. Samuel S. Dickey (MS.) says of the mating of the chickadee: "From what 1 am able to learn of this process, the birds grow agitated late in March and increase their vivacity during April and early in May. They hurry between aisles of trees and swerve over bypaths, and males dart at and even clasp one another. Then they part, and the more dominant male pursues and chases a female over brush piles and even to the ground. Then up they arise and hurry onward. A few such days of immoderate activity, and their nuptial rites seem completed."
Nesting: The commonest nesting site of the chickadee is a hole, made by the birds themselves, in a dead stub or branch of a gray birch. From such a tree the decayed wood can easily be removed in dry chips to form a cavity, and the ring of strong bark holds the branch firmly together.
Arthur C. Bent (MS.) says that in Bristol County, Mass., three-quarters of the nests lie has found have been in such a location, 4 to 8 feet from the ground. He continues: "Other nests have been in natural cavities in apple trees in orchards, or in other deciduous trees. I believe that chickadees almost always, at least partially, excavate their own nest cavities: I have seen them doing it; they cut through the outer bark of birch stubs with their strong little bills and easily remove the rotten wood from the interior.”
Edward H. Forbush (1912) states:
A hole in a decayed birch stump, two or three feet from the ground, a knothole in an old apple tree, in a fence-post, or in an elm, forty or fifty feet from the ground, the old deserted home of some Woodpecker, a small milk-can nailed up in a tree, or a nesting-box at some farmhouse window, may be selected by the Chickadee for its home. Commonly it digs out a neat-hole in the decaying stump of a birch or pine. It is unable to penetrate sound wood, as I have seen it repeatedly try to enlarge a small hole in a white pine nesting-box, but it could not start a chip. Often the Chickadee gains an entrance through the hard outer coating of a post or stump into the decaying interior by choosing, as a vantage point, a hole made by some woodpecker in search of a grub. The Chickadee works industriously to deepen and enlarge this cavity, sometimes making a hole nine or more inches deep; and the little bird is wise enough to carry the tell-tale chips away and scatter them far and wide: something the Woodpeckers are less careful about [sic]
Sometimes the hole is excavated in the broken top of a leaning stump or tree, and once I found one in the top of an erect white pine stump with no shelter from the storm.
If we come upon a pair of chickadees at work excavating a cavity, we can step up very close to them and watch without interrupting them at all. Both members of the pair work at the same time but visit the nest alternately. Each one digs out a beakful of chips and flies away with it, and no sooner is one gone than the other is back at the nest. excavating. Back and forth they go, working quickly and, except for their faint lisping notes, silently. Mr. Bent (MS.) describes a pair at work. He says: "Both birds took turns at the work, digging out the rotten wood, bringing out a billful each time and scattering it from the nearby trees. Sometimes both birds would be at the hole together; one would watch while the other worked, but would not enter until its mate had come out; they were never both in the hole at the same time."
Bradford Torrey (1885) comments on such a scene, "the pretty labors of my little architect," thus: "Their demeanor toward each other all this time was beautiful to see; no effusive display of affection, but every appearance of a perfect mutual understanding and contentment. And their treatment of me was no less appropriate and delightful,: a happy combination of freedom and dignified reserve."
The nest proper is placed in the bottom of the cavity and, according to the testimony of Craig S. Thoms (1927) and Dr. Samuel S. Dickev (MS.), is made entirely by the female. The materials of the nest, as listed by Edward H. Forbush (1912) consist "of such warm materials as cottony vegetable fibers, hairs, wool, mosses, feathers and insect cocoons. Every furry denizen of the woods, and some domestic animals, may sometimes contribute hair or fur to the Chickadee's nest."
Aretas A. Saunders (MS.) states that chickadees sometimes add the wool of cinnamon fern to their nest, "the same material commonly used by the ruby-throated hummingbird."
Ora W. Knight (1908) says: "From a week to ten days is required to excavate the hole and three or four additional days to gather together [the materials] * * * which make up the nest proper." He describes a typical nest found at Orono. Maine: "This nest was placed in a cavity eight and a half inches deep near the top of a rotten white birch stub, six and two-thirds feet from the ground. The diameter of the entrance was two and a quarter inches. The nest proper measured two inches in diameter by one inch deep inside."
Eggs: [AUTHOR'S NOTE: Anywhere from 5 to 10 eggs may be found in the chickadee's nest, but 6 to 8 are the commonest numbers, and as many as 13 have been recorded. These vary from ovate to rounded-ovate, with a tendency toward the latter shape. They have little or no gloss. The ground color is white, and they are more or less evenly marked with small spots or fine dots of light or dark reddish brown; usually these markings are well distributed, but sometimes the larger spots are concentrated about the larger end. The measurements of 50 eggs average 15.2 by 12.2 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 16.3 by 12.2, 15.2 by 12.8, 14.0 by 12.2, and 15.2 by 11.2 millimeters.]
Young: Dr. Samuel S. Dickey (MS.) writes: "Before the set of eggs is complete, or when they are fresh, the parent, as is the habit of our wild ducks, covers the eggs with the lining of the nest, thus rendering them comparatively safe. I have found that it requires on an average 12 days for the eggs to hatch. When the nestlings are about three days old they agitate their heads, wing stumps, and legs and open their beaks and squeak feebly in anticipation of food. They remain in the nest for approximately 16 days. At this age the nestlings, about to be fledglings, look almost like their parents, but a shagginess or somewhat ill-kempt aspect serves to distinguish them. They are without doubt among the handsomest young birds of our mountain forests." He adds that the male feeds the female during incubation and that both parents feed the young.
Dr. Wilbur K. Butts (1931), in a study made in the State of New York of the dispersal of young banded chickadees, found that as a rule the birds wandered only a short distance, a mile or two, from the nest during the first few months of their lives.
George J. Wallace (1941) concluded, from his study of color-banded chickadees at Lenox, Mass., "that young chickadees, though obviously in company with their parents in late summer, tend to wander away from the more sedentary adults in the fall," and that "the Sanctuary flocks were not made up of family groups in winter."
Plumages: [AUTHOR'S NOTE: The "pale mouse gray" natal down of the young chickadee is soon replaced by the juvenal plumage, or rather pushed out on the tips of these feathers, and wears away. The juvenal contour plumage closely resembles the spring plumage of the adult, but it is softer, looser, and fluffier; the black of the crown, chin, and throat is much duller; the sides of the head below the eyes are pure white; and the under parts are dull white, washed on the sides and crissum with pale pinkish buff.
About midsummer a partial postjuvenal molt takes place, involving the contour plumage and the wing coverts, but not the rest of the wings or the tail. This produces a first winter plumage, which is practically indistinguishable from the fall plumage of the adult.
Adults have one complete postnuptial molt in July and August, which produces a winter plumage that is more richly colored than the worn and faded plumage seen during spring and summer; the gray of the back and rump is more decidedly buffy; the sides and flanks are deep brownish buff in strong contrast with the white of the abdomen; and the whitish edgings of the larger wing coverts, secondaries, and outer tail feathers are broader.
Wear and fading produces a paler plumage in spring, the huffy tints becoming paler or largely disappearing and some of the white edgings in the wings and tail wearing away.]
Food: Clarence M. Weed (1898), after a careful investigation of the winter food of the chickadee, states: "The results as a whole show that more than half of the food of the chickadee during the winter months consists of insects, a very large proportion of these being taken in the form of eggs. About five per cent of the stomach contents consisted of spiders or their eggs. Vegetation of various sorts made up a little less than a quarter of the food, two-thirds of which, however, consisted of buds and bud scales that were believed to have been accidentally introduced along with plant-lice eggs." In his conclusion he says: "The investigations * * * show that the chickadee is one of the best of the farmer's friends, working throughout the winter to subdue the insect enemies of the farm, orchard, and garden."
W. L. McAtee (1926), writing of the chickadee's food throughout the year, says:
About three-tenths of the food of the Chickadee is vegetable, and seven-tenths animal. Mast and wild fruits supply the bulk of the vegetable food. The mast is derived chiefly from coniferous trees, and the favorite wild fruits are the wax-covered berries of bayberry and poison ivy. A good many blueberries also are eaten, but only limited numbers of other wild fruits and seeds.
The important things in the animal food of the Chickadees, in order, are caterpillars and eggs of lepidoptera, spiders, beetles, true bugs of various kinds, and ants, sawflies, and other hymenoptera. The Chickadee certainly consumes a great many spiders (which are moderately useful), but the occurrence seems inseparably connected with the bird's mode of feeding, ever prying as it does, under bark scales and into all sorts of crannies which are the favorite hiding places of spiders. It is just these methods, however, that enables the Chickadee to find so many of the eggs of injurious lepidoptera and plant lice, and scale insects and other minute pests, the consumption of which is so praiseworthy. The good the bird does in consuming these tiny terrors is so great that we must regard as far outweighed, the harm done in feeding upon spiders and parasitic hymenoptera. * * *
Culling moths and their larvae and pupae, the larvae, chrysalids, and adults of the gypsy and browntail moths, birch, willow, and apple plant lice, and pear psylla, and various scale insects are eaten by the Chickadee. Among these scales are one affecting dogwood (Lecanium corni), the black-banded scale (Eulecanium nigrofasciatum) which is quite injurious to maples, the scurfy elm scale (Chionaspis americana), and the oyster scale (Lepidosaphes ulmi), which attacks many trees and has been known to kill ashes and poplars in New York.
Among other forest pests attacked by our friend the Chickadee are the flat-headed and round-headed wood borers, leaf beetles, the white pine weevil, nut weevils, bark beetles, tree hoppers, spittle insects, cicadas, leaf hoppers, and sawflies. Other food items of the bird include a variety of beetles, bugs, flies, and grasshoppers, and a few stone flies, dragon flies, daddy-long-legs, millipeds, snails, and small amphibians.
Dr. Dickey (MS.) writes to Mr. Bent: "I have noticed that chickadees like to draw near hunters' cabins at all times of the year, but particularly during the hunting seasons. They arrive within a stone's throw of the shelters, and will inspect and peck at animal hides, fatty substances thrown out from the table, or even entrails of animal carcasses."
Lewis 0. Shelley (1926) writes of a curious and evidently unusual habit that he noticed on a warm day in February. He says: "Flying from the piazza, a Chickadee lit in front of a hive. When a bee came out it snapped it up, flew into an elm, and, holding the bee in its foot, picked it to pieces and ate it. I was alarmed for fear the Chickadee would be stung, but it seemed not, for the act was performed again. Neither was it always the same bird that flew down and got a bee, but many different ones."
J. Kenneth Terres (1940) reports seeing a chickadee eating tiny tent caterpillars, too small to be detected in a stomach contents. He says: "On the morning of April 23, 1938, I again observed at close range the destruction of these caterpillars, this time by a Black-capped Chickadee, Penthestes atricapillus atricapillus, in a brush-grown field in Broome County, near Nanticoke, New York. When first seen, the chickadee was busily engaged in visiting a number of the newly started nests of the American tent caterpillar located in a nearby wild-apple tree, Malus pumila. Using an eight-power binocular at twenty feet, I observed the chickadee closely while it visited three caterpillar nests in succession. It would first tear open the web, then pick up the small worms (on this date about three-eighths of an inch long and a sixteenth of an inch in diameter) and devour them rapidly."
Behavior: When chickadees visit our feeding shelves what impresses us most is their quickness. They flit in rather slowly to be sure, for so small a bird, and land on the shelf with a thud, often upright, grasping the edge with their strong little claws and then jerking about with such rapidity that the eye can scarcely take in their flashlike movements. When alarmed they disappear as if by magic: we see only the place where they were: an ability that must save them many times from the strike of a bird of prey.
Another chickadee propensity is the assumption of odd attitudes; they often alight up-side-down on the under side of a branch, making, it seems, almost a back somersault as they reach upward to grasp it; and they can hang, back to the ground, steady and secure, from the tip of a swaying branch. Edward H. Forbush (1907) describes thus some of the chickadee's acrobatic tricks:
I once saw a Chickadee attempting to hold a monster caterpillar, which proved too strong for it. The great worm writhed out of the confining grasp and fell to the ground, but the little bird followed, caught it, whipped it over a twig, and swinging underneath, caught each end of the caterpillar with a foot, and so held it fast over the twig by superior weight, and proceeded, while hanging back downward, to dissect its prey. This is one of the most skillful acrobatic feats that a bird can perform: although I have seen a Chickadee drop over backward from a branch, in pursuit of an insect, catch it, and, turning an almost complete somersault in the air, strike right side up again on the leaning trunk of the tree. Indeed, the complete somersault is an every-day accomplishment of this gifted little fowl, and it often swings completely round a branch, like a human acrobat taking the "giant swing." Although the Chickadee ordinarily is no flycatcher, it can easily follow and catch in the air any insect that drops from its clutch.
William Leon Dawson (Dawson and Bowles, 1909), writing of the Oregon chickadee, a subspecies of the black-capped, gives this lively account of its activities: "Chickadee refuses to look down for long upon the world; or, indeed, to look at any one thing from any direction for more than two consecutive twelfths of a second. 'Any old side up without care,' is the label he bears; and so with anything he meets, be it a pine-cone, an alder catkin, or a bug-bearing branchlet, topside, bottomside, inside, outside, all is right side to the nimble Chickadee. * * * Blind-man's buff, hide-and-seek, and tag are merry games enough when played out on one plane, but when staged in three dimensions, with a labyrinth of interlacing branches for hazard, only the blithe bird whose praises we sing could possibly master their intricacies.”
There are many instances recorded of the tameness of individual chickadees. The following, by John Woodcock (1913), is a good example:
Although I had fed the Chickadees in winter for several years, none of them were tame enough to feed from the hand until the spring of 1906. A pair were nesting in one of my bird-boxes, and, as I was standing near the nest, one of the birds came toward me. I threw a piece of nut to it, which it picked up and ate. Then I held a piece on my finger-tips, and it came almost without hesitation and carried it off; this was repeated several times. Two days later he would perch on my finger and take a nut from between my teeth, or would sit on a branch and let me touch him while he was eating a nut. * * *
He grew very tame that winter, and would often swing head downward from the peak of my cap, or cling to my lips and peck at my teeth. If I held my hand out with nothing in it, he would always hop to my thumb, and peck the nail two or three times, then hold his head on one side, and look into my eyes, as if to ask me what I meant. * * *
I tamed several more Chickadees that winter; eight out of twelve, as nearly as we could count, were quite tame.
It was rather amusing when I took the 22 rifle to shoot rabbits! After the first shot was fired, I was attended by several Chickadees. They made aiming almost impossible, for every time I raised the rifle, one or two birds would perch on the barrel completely hiding the sights.
Many of us have had somewhat similar experiences.
Harrison F. Lewis (1931) describes an extraordinary experience with a chickadee that he believes was not previously tamed. He writes:
On a chilly day, with drizzling rain, about the year 1915, as I was walking on the outskirts of Wolfville, Nova Scotia, I saw a Black-capped Chickadee (Penthestes atricapillus atricapillus) feeding in a leafless alder bush. There was nothing unusual in its appearance, but the fact that it did not seem to heed me in the least when my path led me within a few feet of it attracted my attention. Wondering a little how near the bird I would have to go before it actively evaded me, I paused a moment, then stepped slowly in its direction. When I had advanced to the outer twigs of the bush in which it was busily feeding, it still appeared unaware of my presence, so, while expecting to see it fly away at any moment, I slowly extended my hand toward it. When my fingers were close to it I suddenly closed them upon it and had it securely in my grasp. The Chickadee seemed greatly surprised at this occurrence and struggled violently for a moment in a futile attempt to free itself, but I believe that my own surprise was equal to that of the bird, for I had confidently anticipated its escape rather than its capture.
When I had recovered a little from the first shock of unexpected success, I began to doubt whether the Chickadee could be in good health. "Perhaps," I thought, "it has from some cause lost the ability to fly." I took it into a neighboring house and showed it to one or two other persons, holding it in my hand all the while, then I carried it to the open door and released it. It flew away at once with strong, sustained flight as though in the best of condition.
On the other hand, William H. Longley (MS.) speaks of "a chickadee incubating seven eggs which would bite and buffet our fingers if we put them too close, while the mate fed near by, only occasionally raising its voice expressing what may have been an objection to our presence."
The following quotations refer to the roosting habits of the chickadee. Lynds Jones (1910) says: "On numerous occasions I have started them from their night roost in the thick of a leafy grape vine in midwinter." And Henry D. Minot (1895) recounts the following observation: "February 10th. This afternoon, just before sunset, I noticed two Chickadees, feeding on the ground, and pecking at a bone, to which a remnant of meat was attached. * * * They scarcely left the ground * * * until half-past five, when one flew away over the housetop and disappeared. The other continued to hop about on the ground; and then, without any intimation of his purpose, abruptly flew to the piazza, whether I followed him. He took possession of a Peewee's nest, which stood upon the top of a corner-pillar, adjoining the house, and, having stared at me for a moment, tucked his head under his wing, and apparently leaned against the wall. * * * Another retires as regularly at sunset, and sleeps in a hole of a white birch, evidently once a Chickadee's nest, perhaps his own." Eugene P. Odum (MS.) says:
In fall and winter most individuals roosted in dense conifer branches rather than in cavities. However, during the winter, two cavities were discovered where single birds were known to spend the night.
There was a definite tendency for chickadee groups to roost in the same area each night, so that it was possible to station oneself at a known roosting place and observe the birds coming to roost. The flock was usually scattered, individuals seeking places in the dense foliage of different trees. In contrast with the noisy behavior of many species roosting in flocks, chickadees retire with very little calling or ceremony.
As the flocks break up and pairs form in the spring, the winter roosts were abandoned. During early spring movements the pair seems to roost wherever convenient. After the nesting cavity is excavated and the nest material carried in, the female apparently may spend the night in the cavity even before incubation begins. The male roosts outside in some tree nearby. Likewise, during incubation and the feeding of the young the female sleeps in the cavity and the male somewhere outside. After the young are twelve days old, or older, the female may remain outside at night. When the young have left the nest, neither they nor the adult birds were observed to return to the cavity. The first night out the young and adults roosted wherever they happened to be.
If we are near a chickadee when it it flitting about in a tree, making short flights from twig to twig, we hear each time it flies a faint, rustling whir of wings, or sometimes two or more whirs, if the distance be longer. This is the chickadee's method of flight: a delicate, quick flutter, and a pause, then a flutter again. When crossing a wide, open space, the bird flies slowly, undulating in the air a little: each flutter of its wings carries him upward a little way, and during the pause between the flutters he sinks again.
Katharine C. Harding (1932) reports a banded chickadee at least 7½ years old, and Dorothy A. Baldwin (1935) another of the same age. Mr. Wallace (1941) reports one that was 9 years old.
Lester W. Smith (MS.), writing to Mr. Bent, gives an instance of the intelligence of the chickadee. He says: "Among the dozen or more species commonly taken for banding in my Government-type sparrow trap, the black-capped chickadee was the only species with instinctive intelligence to remember its way out. This trap, with its entrance under inward-sloping wires, was successful through the failure of most birds to remember just how and where they came in and the confusion that resulted when escape was found impossible in any general direction, particularly upward. The chickadee, selecting a sunflower seed from among the mixed bait in the trap, went in, not to eat the seed there, but to get it out to where it could be opened on a branch. The little bird at its first visit would walk around the trap until the low entrance was discovered, then dart in, select a seed, and, if nothing disturbed it, head back whence it came and with little investigation find its way out. They rarely became confused as did the juncos, tree sparrows, and purple finches. After the first trip in and out the same individual would fly directly to the entrance and as directly out again after he had grabbed the seed. If I shifted the position of the trap on the same spot, or moved it to a new location, the trail was learned after one trial"
Voice: The chickadee is a voluble little bird; when two or more are together they are full of conversation, exchanging bright, cheery remarks back and forth. The notes show great variety and extend over a wide range in pitch. Some of the minor ones are very high indeed, closely approaching the insectlike voice of the golden-crowned kinglet and the brown creeper; one, the familiar "phoebe" note, an "elfin whistle" Langille (1884) calls it, is a pure, prolonged tone so low that we can imitate it by whistling; others, lower, but high-pitched, remind us of short words or phrases given in a babylike voice.
The simplest of the notes mentioned above is uttered rather listlessly, thus differing from the kinglet's energetic delivery; it is sibilant but given with a hint of a lisp, suggested by the letters sth. It is a faint note, but it may serve to report one bird's whereabouts to another not far away. This note, emphasized and prolonged into stheep, is often given in flight, or when a bird is slightly disturbed. It may be doubled. By further emphasis and repetition into a sharp, rapid series, si-si-si-si, it serves as a warning or alarm note; we hear this form when a hawk comes near.
Of the "phoebe" whistle, Aretas A. Saunders (MS.) says: "There are two notes of equal length, the second tone lower in pitch than the first. The quality is that of a clear, sweet whistle. The pitch is commonly B-A or A-G, in the highest octave of the piano. Frequently the second note has a slight waver in the middle, as if the bird sang fee-beyee instead of fee-bee. Rarely a bird drops a tone and a half between the two notes." Not infrequently two birds will whistle the "phoebe" note antiphonally, the second bird picking up the pitch at the end of the first bird's song and then dropping a tone lower, i.e., B-A, and the response A-G, over and over again.
It is a matter for conjecture whether the phoebe note is a true song of the chickadee. It is heard oftenest in spring and early in summer, but we hear it also throughout the winter, sometimes in cold, inclement weather, and it is uttered by both sexes, according to Dr. Jonathan Dwight (1897). Perhaps the deciding point in determining a true song is the manner in which the bird delivers its notes rather than their beauty to our ears. With this in mind, an observation by Bradford Torrey (1885) seems significant. He says:
For several mornings in succession I was greeted on waking by the trisyllabic minor whistle of a chickadee, who piped again and again not far from my window. There could be little doubt about its being the bird that I knew to be excavating a building site in one of our apple-trees; but I was usually not out-of-doors until about five o'clock, by which time the music always came to an end. So one day I rose half an hour earlier than common on purpose to have a look at my little matutinal serenader. My conjecture proved correct. There sat the tit, within a few feet of his apple-branch door, throwing back his head in the truest lyrical fashion, and calling Hear, hear me, with only a breathing space between the repetitions of the phrase. He was as plainly singing, and as completely absorbed in his work, as any thrasher or hermit thrush could have been. Heretofore I had not realized that these whistled notes were so strictly a song, and as such set apart from all the rest of the chickadee's repertory of sweet sounds; and I was delighted to find my tiny pet recognizing thus unmistakably the difference between prose and poetry.
Francis H. Allen tells me that he has several times heard a chickadee similarly engaged, also early in the morning.
Among the several notes that lend themselves to syllabification is the well-known chicka, dee-dee. Aretas A. Saunders (MS.) says of it that it "is more variable than many suppose. While it is most commonly one chicka followed by three or four dees, it may vary from one to ten dees, and there are sometimes two chickas. The chicka is, as a rule, two tones higher than the dees, and the pitch is B on the chicka and G on the dees, in the next to highest octave on the piano.
Another pretty note may be written sizzle-ee, or, when it falls in pitch at the end, sizzle-oo. A single bird often gives this phrase over and over, sometimes alternating the two forms, and two birds may make a two-part song of them, singing back and forth. The prettiest note of all, and the most delicate, is a prolonged jingling: as if tiny, silver sleigh-bells were shaking.
Field marks: The chickadee is a round, fluffy little bird, boldly marked with splashes of gray, black, and white in contrast to the streaks, lines, and pencilings characteristic of many of the smaller birds. The white side of the head, separating the black areas above and below it, shines out brightly and forms a good field mark even in the distance. The short bill and the fur-coat appearance of the plumage distinguish the chickadee from any of the warblers with their slender bills and sleek, elegant stylishness. And the invisible eye, hidden in black feathers, sets the chickadee apart from the kinglets, even when colors are obscured by the dark shadows of evergreens.
Enemies: The smaller, fast-moving hawks often capture a chickadee, but the little bird is so watchful for danger and so quick in its movements that it sometimes escapes from an attack. Tertius van Dyke (1913) reports a narrow escape of a chickadee (aided by him, to be sure) from the strike of a sparrow hawk.
The northern shrike, too, is the chickadee's enemy, but it is not always successful. Some years ago I (Winsor M. Tyler, 1912) described a case in which a chickadee out-maneuvered a shrike thus:
Jan. 27, 1910. This afternoon (2 P.M.) I watched for five or ten minutes a Shrike attempting to capture a Chickadee. My attention was attracted by the Chickadee's notes, si-si-si-si, dee-dee-dee, and I found the bird hiding in an isolated red cedar tree, while the Shrike was doing his best to find him. The Chickadee made no attempt to leave the tree, but kept moving about, chiefly among the inner branches. The Shrike followed his prey as best he could through the network of fine twigs, but often lost sight of it, evidently, and, coming to an outside branch, sat quiet, listening.
When hard pressed, the Chickadee flew out and circled about the tree before diving in among the branches again. After these flights, sometimes he entered the tree low down, and then mounted to the very top by a series of short, rapid hops; sometimes, after flying to the apex of the tree, he passed downward to the lowest branches before flying again. Several times the Shrike hovered in the air, and holding his body motionless and upright, peered into the tree. Finally, although not frightened away, the Shrike gave up the chase.
Chickadee's nests are so carefully hidden away, and the entrance is generally so small, that cowbirds rarely find and enter them. There is, however, an instance of parasitism of unquestionable authority. Fred M. Packard (1936) reports: "On May 25, 1936 a Black-capped Chickadee's nest, containing four Chickadee eggs and two Cowbird's eggs, was found in a nesting box at the Austin Ornithological Research Station at North Eastham, Massachusetts. * * *
"The opening in this box was one and one-half inches in diameter, much larger than the usual entrance to Chickadee nests, and ample to permit the intrusion of Cowbirds."
Dr. Herbert Friedmann (1929) lists another recorded instance from Ravinia, Ill.; an egg was reported to be in a nest of the Carolina chickadee; but the locality would seem to indicate that it was the more northern species.
Harold S. Peters (1936) lists, as external parasites on this chickadee, a louse (Ricinus sp.), the larva of a fly (Ornithoica confluenta), and a mite (Analgopsis passerinus).
Fall: It is certain that in fall a good many chickadees either migrate or at least wander about extensively. We meet them at this season in localities where they never breed, often in thickly built up sections of large cities. Speaking of the occurrence of chickadees on the Public Garden in Boston, Mass., Horace W. Wright (1909) says: "In the autumn Chickadees are much more in evidence [than in spring], as they quite regularly appear in the Garden and continue their stay into November; and, as already intimated, on two occasions two birds remained through the winter and were seen at intervals up to the end of March. Sometimes small flocks have appeared in October which numbered four, five, or six birds." In September, October, and November I have seen them also in smaller open places in Boston, such as a vacant lot surrounded by several square miles of city blocks.
Dr. Wilbur K. Butts (1931), during an able study of the chickadee by means of marked individuals, attempted to determine the extent of migration of the species at Ithaca, N. Y. Even with the aid of colored bands, the evidence of migration, except in minor degree, seemed not conclusive to him, as his following summaries show. He says:
In considering these evidences of a migratory movement, it should be remembered that even if birds appear to be more numerous during the winter, it is not proved that there really are more individuals present. Many birds are so much more conspicuous in winter than in summer that they may seem to be more abundant. The distributional records show that there is a movement of Chickadees, but it is not proved that there is a distinct north and south migration.
Bird-bending operations at some stations seem to indicate that there is an arrival of Chickadees in the fall and a departure in the spring, but the records have as yet no proof of a distinct north-and-south migratory movement. Published records show only two Chickadee recoveries at points other than the place of banding. These two were recovered at distances of only three and twenty miles. The records do show, however, that there are many permanent resident individuals. The records at most stations do not show whether there are more individuals present in winter than in summer, since at most stations few Chickadees are trapped in the breeding-season. Individuals which are recorded only during the winter months may really be present throughout the year. * * *
The records seem to indicate, also, that there are very few birds passing through Ithaca in the fall. Only four birds were recorded but once. It should be remembered, however, that transient visitants are much less likely to get caught than are the resident individuals. Accordingly, there may have been more individuals passing through than the records seem to indicate. All through the fall many unbanded birds, which may have been transients, were seen.
The evidence shows that there were but few, if any, arrivals from the South in the spring. * * *
Since some of the records in the North indicate a greater abundance of birds in fall and spring, it is possible that there is a migration of birds from the extreme northern part of their range, where we as yet have no records, and this may account for the increase in numbers of the Chickadee in the United States.
Additional evidence of southward migration is furnished by the following note by William Palmer (1885): "This bird has been very abundant here [near Washington, D. C.] during March and April, nineteen specimens having been taken, while many others were seen. Owing probably to the severe winter they were driven south, returning about the middle of March. The first specimens were taken on March 15, and others were taken every week until April 19, when six were shot and many others seen. The weather during April was fine and warm, and the birds were singing and appeared quite at home. But few P. carolinensis were seen until the last week in April, showing that they too had been driven much further south."
W. E. Saunders has sent us some notes on the migration of chickadees at Point Pelee from 1909 to 1920, from which it appears that the fall migration there is very irregular. On many days there would be none at all, and then for several days there might be as many as 300 or 400 of these birds. He says: "Usually there are none, but once in a while there is a flight, perhaps (probably) endeavoring to cross the lake; it takes some time to taper off this flight and return to the normal status of none at all. * * * I have always thought this chickadee matter very interesting, and can still remember the first big flight, when, after years of scarcity, all of a sudden chickadees were everywhere; it was fun to watch them down at the last trees, making ineffective little flights up into the air and then settling back into the trees. They had not enough of the migratory instinct to get across. These birds were, doubtless, from stock bred south of the Georgian Bay, and they had never crossed any large body of water."
Mr. Wallace (1941) cites two cases where handed chickadees have been taken at 50 and 200 miles, respectively, southwest of the point of banding; and he says that there are six returns recorded in Washington that might be regarded as long range.
Winter: Chickadees, collected in small loose flocks, spend the winter roving about the woodland. The birds scatter out a good deal, so much so that they must often lose sight of one another, but they keep continually calling to one another, using their fine, lisping note or the louder chickadee, and thus indicating the direction in which the flock is moving. They seldom wander far from the protection of trees and shrubs but occasionally venture out a little way into a field or marsh if there are isolated hushes there in which they can perch and feed. As the flock moves along, each bird examines minutely bark, twigs, and branches, searching for tiny bits of food: spider's eggs, cocoons, or other dormant insect life. The flocks are not large, being seldom composed of more than a dozen birds, but they generally contain too many birds to represent only a single family.
Whenever we go out in the country we meet these cheery little roving flocks: pleasant companions who enliven the dreary, New England winter. Mr. Wallace's (1941) studies indicate that winter flocks "are remarkably constant in individual composition, the same individuals remaining together day after day through the winter, and, as far as survival permits, winter after winter."
Range: North America in general, from the limit of trees south to the central United States; not migratory.
The range of the chickadee extends north to southern Alaska (near Holy Cross Mission, Knik, and Valdez); southern Yukon (Lake Marsh); southeastern Mackenzie (probably Fort Simpson and Willow River); northern Alberta (Smith Landing and Fort Chippewyan) northern Saskatchewan (south end of Reindeer Lake); central Manitoba (Eckimamish River); probably northern Ontario (Fort Albany and Moose Factory); southern Quebec (Godhout, Seven Islands, and Natashkwan River); and Newfoundland (Nicholasville and St. John's). The eastern limits of the range extend south along the Atlantic coast from Newfoundland (St. John's) to Massachusetts (Nantucket); Long Island (Huntington); and northern New Jersey (Passaic); and in the mountains to western Maryland (Bittinger) ; southern West Virginia (Cranberry Glades); and western North Carolina (Mount Mitchell). South to west-central North Carolina (Mount Mitchell); eastern Tennessee (Mount LeConte); central Illinois (Philo and Rantoul); central Missouri (Marshall and Warrensburg); Kansas (Neosho Falls and Wichita); southern New Mexico (probably Capitan Mountain); Arizona (San Francisco Mountain); and northern California (Callahan). The western limits of the range extend northward in Pacific coastal areas from northern California (Callahan) to Alaska (Kodiak Island, Katmai, and near Holy Cross Mission).
While there are records in winter north to the limits of breeding or beyond, as Alaska (St. Michael) and central Quebec (Lake Mistassini) there is sometimes a slight movement southward at this season. Winter occurrences are south to southern North Carolina (Mount Pleasant) southern Indiana (Bloomington and Carlisle); southern Kansas (Independence and Harper); and on the Pacific coast to Eureka, Calif.
Among more than 1,700 return records of chickadees banded in Massachusetts, only two are for points outside of that State. One, banded at Westfield on November 4, 1925, was found dead a short time later (before December 31), at Stratford, Conn. The other, banded at Amherst on October 7, 1932, was caught by a cat at Belvidere, N. J., on December 24, 1932. The files of the Fish and Wildlife Service contain the records of several thousand other banded chickadees, almost all of which were recaptured at the points of banding.
The range as outlined is for the entire species, of which seven subspecies are currently recognized. The typical form (Parus atricapillus atricapillus) is found in the Eastern United States, Canada, and Newfoundland, west to Missouri, Illinois, Minnesota, and western Ontario: the long-tailed chickadee (Parus atricapillus septentrionalis) is found chiefly in the Rocky Mountain region, breeding from the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska and central Mackenzie south to eastern Oregon and northern New Mexico and ranging eastward to northern Manitoba, western Minnesota, western Iowa, and eastern Kansas; the Oregon chickadee (Parus atricapillus occidentalis) is found from southwestern British Columbia south to northwestern California; while the Yukon chickadee (Parus atricapillus turneri) occupies the Hudsonian Zone of northern Alaska to the north and west of Cook Inlet. P. a. bartletti has been described from Newfoundland; P. a. practicus from the central Appalachian region; and P. a. nevadensis from northeastern Nevada.
Egg dates: Alberta: 6 records, May 12 to 23.
Illinois: 17 records, April 20 to June 11; 9 records, May 2 to 16, indicating the height of the season.
Kansas: 16 records, April 10 to June 3; 8 records, April 21 to May 14.
Massachusetts: 27 records, May 7 to July 12; 13 records, May 20 to 29.
Nova Scotia: 5 records, May 21 to June 6.
Oregon: 57 records, April 13 to June 30; 28 records, May 8 to 18.
West Virginia: 13 records, April 22 to May 29.
PARUS ATRICAPILLUS PRACTICUS Oberholser
This form of black-capped chickadee, which is supposed to range from eastern Ohio to southwestern Pennsylvania and southward through the mountain region to North Carolina, is described by Dr. H. C. Oberholser (1937) as "similar to Penthestes atricapillus atricapillus, of Canada, but smaller, particularly the tail; upper parts darker, more grayish, less ochraceous, particularly in winter; wing-coverts and rectrices with narrower white edgings." Dr. Oberholser gives the range as: "Resident and breeds chiefly in the Appalachian Mountains from southwestern North Carolina, north through western Virginia, West Virginia, southwestern Pennsylvania, to central eastern and northeast central Ohio." Presumably the habits do not differ from those of the typical race.
PARUS ATRICAPILLUS BARTLETTI Aldrich and Nutt
John W. Aldrich and David C. Nutt (1939) found this chickadee "abundant in all the thickets in eastern Newfoundland." They describe it as "similar to Penthestes articapillus atricapillus but darker and more brownish above, and darker buff on flanks and under tail-coverts. White edgings to wing and tail feathers narrower. Bill larger. In color nearer to P. a. occidentalis than to any other known race but larger." It is their opinion "that a very well marked race is represented in Newfoundland with characters most pronounced in the eastern part of the island and specimens from the western part distinctly intermediate with P. a. atricapillus.”
I saw a few chickadees near Bay of Islands and along Fox Island River in western Newfoundland but did not collect any specimens.
PARUS ATRICAPILLUS SEPTENTRIONALIS Harris
For nearly a hundred years the long-tailed chickadee has been recognized as a midcontinent race of our familiar little chickadee, ranging from Alaska to New Mexico in the Canadian and Transition Zones. It is described by Ridgway (1904) as "similar to P. a. atricapillus, but larger, with wing and tail averaging decidedly longer; coloration paler, with whitish edgings to greater wing-coverts, secondaries and lateral rectrices broader, more conspicuous."
P. A. Taverner (1940) has recently made an enlightening study of the Canadian status of this subspecies, based on a series of 99 specimens in the National Museum of Canada, including:
17 males and 14 females from southern Ontario, eastward to Nova Scotia; 19 males and 17 females from Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta; 20 males and 12 females from the interior of British Columbia. Specimens from coastal areas of British Columbia referable to P. a. occidentalis were not included. These were all taken within two hundred miles of the international boundary and can reasonably be assumed to be of local breeding stock. They are from areas separated from each other by some eight hundred miles and include no specimens between. * * *
In these birds, laid out in comparable seasonal mass groups, a highly critical eye can detect a slight average color distinction as above postulated [by Ridgway], between the prairie and the eastern birds, but not enough to be readily detected and not consistent enough for the recognition of individual specimens. Every individual in one group can be matched in the other, and no single specimen can be confidently identified by this character, though winter and early-spring birds, before the wear and fading of nesting activity, show slightly more color differences than in later season.
His study of the tail measurements shows that "there is a large overlap in extreme measurements: the smallest atricapillus is only 0.2 inches (5.08 mm.) smaller than the smallest septentrionalis. The largest septentrionolis is only 0.05 inches (1.27 mm.) larger than the largest atricapillus." The wing measurements give "even less definite results. * * * There is a large overlap in extreme measurements; the smallest atricapillus is only 0.1 inch (2.54 mm.) smaller than the smallest septentrionalis; the largest septentrionalis is no larger than the largest atricapillus."
A study of Mr. Taverner's paper must convince the reader that septentrionalis is one of those millimeter races, based on averages, that many of the individuals of this race cannot be definitely recognized as such from the characters alone, and that his figures "open the question of the desirability of formal recognition of subspecies of which few or no individuals can certainly be referred to their proper race by physical characters without reference to the geographical origin."
In his notes from Montana, Aretas A. Sounders writes: "The only difference I have noted in the field between long-tailed and black-capped chickadees is that of habitat, the long-tailed being chiefly an inhabitant of willow thickets and cottonwood groves, not extending its range up into the evergreen forests of the mountains, as the blackcap does in the Adirondacks. Perhaps this is partly because the evergreen forests are inhabited by mountain chickadees." Other observers seem to agree that throughout its range the favored haunts of this chickadee are the open, sunny, deciduous woods, such as poplar, aspen, willow, and cottonwood groves, and that it seems to avoid the dense coniferous forests.
Nesting: The nesting habits of this chickadee seem to be similar to those of its eastern relative. An unusually low nest was discovered by Harry S. Swarth (1922) in the Stikine River region "in a tract of rather open woods, mostly of small poplars. It was in a dead poplar stub about three inches in diameter, a mere shell of dead and decayed wood, hardly strong enough to hold the tightly packed and rapidly growing young, who did actually break through the wall at one place. The entrance hole was five inches from the base, the nest itself, flush with the ground. The lining appeared to be entirely of matted moose hair."
E. S. Cameron (1908) says that, in Montana, this chickadee sometimes "nests in small deep holes of high dead pines. On June 15, 1903, a pair of Chickadees were seen to be greatly excited over a strip of rag hung in a pine on Cottonwood Creek, Dawson County. They hovered about it, meditating an attack, but with each breath of wind the flag fluttered, and frightened away the birds which returned when the wind ceased. This strange behavior on their part induced me to investigate, when I found their nest of wool, hair, and grass in a very small hole below the rag. *** The birds' fears were entirely allayed when I wrapped the offending rag around the branch."
Lee R. Dice (1918) found nests in process of construction in southeastern Washington early in April, "in the decayed wood of orchard or shade trees." He continues:
The process of nest excavation was watched for a short time on April 10, 1914. The nest was being excavated in the rotten heart of a pear tree, and entrance was obtained through the end of a stub about four feet from the ground. The male and female took part equally in the work, and the labors were continued throughout the day. A vigorous pecking could be heard while either bird was at work. The excavated material was carried in the bill a distance of ten yards or more from the nest before being dropped. It was not dropped in the same place each time, but was scattered over a wide area. Usually the birds alighted on some branch before dropping the debris, but sometimes it was dropped while the bird was flying. As soon as one bird left the hole the other entered immediately. Sometimes the bird outside had to wait a short time. Between 12 P.M. and 1 P.M. the average time each bird spent in the nest hole was thirty seconds and the shortest time four seconds.
Eggs: The eggs of the long-tailed chickadee are indistinguishable from those of the black-capped chickadee. The measurements of 50 eggs in the United State National Museum average 15.7 by 12.2 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 17.5 by 12.7, 15.1 by 12.9, 14.2 by 11.9, and 15.2 by 11.2 millimeters.
Young: Mr. Swarth (1922) watched the young being fed at the nest referred to above and remarks: "Both parents carried food to the nest assiduously after foraging expeditions that lasted from two to five minutes. In approaching the nest, the old birds came through the trees and bushes until within about eight or ten feet of their destination; then they dropped to the ground and hopped to the entrance [only 5 inches from the ground]. To the casual observer they disappeared at a point some distance from the nest, and it was not until they had been observed for some time that this subterfuge was detected. The staple food that was being brought to the young was a small green caterpillar infesting the poplars at that time; also a white grub, a green katydid, and many small mosquito-like insects."
The plumage changes, food, behavior, and voice of this chickadee are all similar to those of the familiar chickadee of the East and need not be mentioned here. But the following note from Claude T. Barnes is of interest:
"On January 4, 1924, at an altitude of 5,000 feet in the mountains near Salt Lake City, while wading through the deep snow of City Creek Canyon, I was attracted by the thin, oft-repeated tchip of half a dozen chickadees that were busy in the upper branches of some birch trees (B. fontinalis utahensis). I noticed one take a peck at one of the numerous birch catkins, which, like Kaiser brown caterpillars, were suspended from the branches, and then instantly thereafter work with its bill against a limb, as if trying to get the kernel from a nut. In a second it made another peck followed by another working with its bill against a limb, and so on, hopping from twig to twig and constantly uttering its companionable tchip. Rarely did it sing chick-a-dee-dee-dee, though three or four times in an hour the familiar notes did come from the flock."
PARUS ATRICAPILLUS NEVADENSIS Linsdale
Dr. J. M. Linsdale (1938b) gives the above names to a local race of the long-tailed chickadee, which he says is "resident along streams in the Snake River drainage system south of the Snake River, in northeastern Nevada and southern Idaho." He describes it as "similar to P. a. septentrionalis, but coloration paler, with whitish edgings to greater wing-coverts, secondaries and lateral rectrices broader, more conspicuous, thus reaching the extreme in these respects for the species, but close to P. a. turneri from which it differs in larger size."
PARUS ATRICAPILLUS OCCIDENTALIS Baird
This western form of our familiar blackcap occupies the northwestern coast from extreme southwestern British Columbia to extreme northwestern California. It is described by Ridgway (1904) as similar to P. a. atricapillus but decidedly smaller (except bill and feet) and coloration very much darker; back varying from deep mouse gray or very slight huffy slate-gray in spring and summer to deep hair brown or light olive in fall and winter plumage; sides and flanks (broadly) pale grayish buff in spring and summer, deep brownish buff, wood brown, or isabella color in fall and winter; whitish edgings of innermost greater wing-coverts, secondaries, and exterior rectrices more restricted than in P. a. atricapillus."
Its haunts and habits are similar to those of our familiar eastern chickadee. W. B. Griffee tells me that it "is abundant all through the hardwood timber of western Oregon valleys but is very much less common in the coniferous timber, particularly during the nesting season."
S. F. Rathbun says in his notes that "it is a Transition Zone species and not to be found at any considerable altitude; the highest we have noticed it being 550 feet; it seems to prefer the lowlands," in western Washington.
Nesting: Mr. Griffee says (MS.): "Probably nine-tenths of the nests are in dead willow, cottonwood, and alder trees and stubs, at least one of these three tree species being found wherever the Oregon chickadee nests. Nesting holes usually start with an irregular opening about 1¼ in diameter and are 8 to 10 inches deep. Often they are within 3 or 4 feet of the ground and rarely over 10 or 12 feet. Cavities, which are about 3 inches in diameter at the bottom, are invariably lined with a layer of green moss, often at least an inch thick. Upon this layer of moss is a thick lining of rodent fur, cow hair, and other hairy material.
"Nests containing incomplete sets practically never are occupied by the birds during the day, a coverlet of fur being drawn over the eggs while the birds are away. Incubating birds sit tightly and try to frighten the intruder by a hiss and flutter of the wings when an inquiring finger is poked into the entrance of the nesting hole."
Eggs: The Oregon chickadee lays four to ten eggs. Out of 28 sets reported by Mr. Griffee, 18 sets consisted of eight eggs; there were only two of six, four of seven, three of nine, and only one of ten. The eggs are practically indistinguishable from those of the black-capped chickadee. The measurements of 40 eggs average 15.6 by 12.0 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 17.0 by 12.0, 16.2 by 12.3, 14.6 by 11.7, and 14.8 by 11.5 millimeters.
The plumage changes, food, behavior, voice, and other habits are apparently similar to those of the closely related eastern race.
Mr. Rathbun observed some of these chickadees eating tent caterpillars, near Seattle, of which he writes in his notes: "It was toward evening, and seeing three of these birds very active in a lilac bush, we stopped to watch them. Near the top of the bush was a tent caterpillars' web of small size; as the worms were crawling toward it, some of them would be seized by the chickadees for food. During a space of less than five minutes the three chickadees captured and ate eight of the worms of large size. When one was caught the bird would beat it about a number of times and then, holding it with one foot on its perch, leisurely tear off pieces with its bill, which it then ate. The birds must have been feeding on the caterpillars for some time before we noticed them, for, on looking over the ground under the bush, many dead and mutilated worms were to be seen strew about."
PARUS ATRICAPILLUS TURNERI Ridgway
According to the 1931 Check-list, this chickadee "breeds in the Hudsonian Zone of northern Alaska north and west of Cook Inlet."
Ridgway (1904) describes it as "similar to P. a. septentrionalis but slightly smaller, coloration grayer above and more extensively or purely white beneath, and white edgings of greater wing-coverts, secondaries, and outermost rectrices broader, more purely white; in spring and summer plumage the gray of upper parts without perceptible tinge of buff, except on rump and upper tail-coverts, where very faint, and white of sides and flanks very faintly, if at all, tinged with buff; in fall and winter plumage the buffy tinge on sides and flanks very much paler than in P. a. septentrionalis."
Under the name long-tailed chickadee, with which this race was included by some of the earlier writers, Dr. E. W. Nelson (1887) writes:
Throughout the wooded region of Alaska, from the moist, heavily-wooded coast in the Sitkan and Kadiak region north throughout the entire Yukon and adjoining country, this bird is a common resident. Specimens were secured both at Cook's Inlet and Kadiak by Dr. Bean. I secured specimens from various places throughout the northern portion of the Territory, at times even along the barren sea-coast, where it only found shelter in the stunted alder or weed patches. Its visits to the coast, however, were mainly in roving parties during spring or fall. A few days of mild weather, at this season, are almost sure to bring some of these familiar birds about the coast settlements, and its familiar dee-dee-dee is a welcome sound on the clear frosty mornings which usher in the stinging blasts of winter, or announce the approach of spring. One meets it again while traveling through the silent snow-clad forests of the Yukon, as he tramps wearisomely on, until the mind is unconsciously affected by the lack of animation. At such times, as we move mechanically forward, the shrill, strident note of the Chickadee, as the, bird eyes us from its swinging perch on a busts close at hand, breaks the silence and diverts the mind. Frequently the chorus of their Lilliputian cries arise from the bushes all about as the jolly company of harlequins swing and balance their tiny bodies and pass on as though too busily intent upon affairs of importance to stop. After their passage the forest resumes its cheerless silence once more, and the heavy breathing of the icy wind through the tree-tops or the sharp report of the contracting ice in the river are the only accompaniments of the toilsome march.
I have no information on the nesting habits, eggs, food, and other habits of the Yukon chickadee.