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Carolina Chickadee

These small birds are known for their intelligence and their ability to adapt to changing environments.

While a chickadee of one species or another is familiar to most people in North America, for those in the southeastern U.S. it is the Carolina Chickadee that is coming to a feeder or occupying a wooded backyard. With a personality all out of proportion to its size, the Carolina Chickadee is noisy, acrobatic, inquisitive, and social.

Though well adapted to surviving cold winters, there is evidence that supplemental feeding through the use of bird feeders does improve overwinter survival. Annual survival rates are usually around 50%, and the longest known living Carolina Chickadee was over 10 years old.

 

Description of the Carolina Chickadee

BREEDING MALE

The Carolina Chickadee is a small, active, vocal bird with a black cap and throat separated by white cheeks. It has dark gray wings with light gray feather edgings to the primaries, and its flanks are a pale reddish tan (sometimes very pale or not easily visible).  Length: 5 in.  Wingspan: 7 in.

Carolina Chickadee

Female

Sexes similar.

Seasonal change in appearance

None.

Juvenile

Similar to adults.

Habitat

Carolina Chickadees inhabit woodlands, groves, forest edges, and suburban areas with mature trees.

Diet

Carolina Chickadees eat insects and seeds. They readily frequent bird feeders for suet or seeds.

Behavior

Carolina Chickadees forage actively among twigs and branches.

Range

Carolina Chickadees are resident in the southeastern U.S. The population appears to be declining.

More information:

Bent Life History

Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Carolina Chickadee.

Wing Shape

The shape of a bird’s wing is often an indication of its habits and behavior. Fast flying birds have long, pointed wings. Soaring birds have long, broad wings. Different songbirds will have a slightly different wing shape. Some species look so much alike (Empidonax flycatchers) that scientists sometimes use the length of specific feathers to confirm a species’ identification.

Wing images from the University of Puget Sound, Slater Museum of Natural History

Fun Facts

Carolina Chickadees are very social, and are constantly communicating with one another by voice and by behavior.

Carolina Chickadees often occur in mixed flocks with other species during the winter months.

Vocalizations

Carolina Chickadees give an eponymous “chick-a-dee-dee”, somewhat higher pitched than Black-capped Chickadees.

 

Similar Species

Black-capped Chickadee
The Black-capped Chickadee is slightly larger but nearly identical, and occupies a range north and west of the range of the Carolina Chickadee.

Mountain Chickadee
The Mountain Chickadee has a white line over the eye. Ranges do not typically overlap.

Nesting

Carolina Chickadees nest in tree cavities or nest boxes. The nest is composed of moss with a lining of animal hair or other soft fibers.

Number: Usually lay 6-8 eggs.
Color: White with darker markings.

Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 12-15 days and fledge at about 16-19 days, with an additional dependency period of several weeks.

 

Bent Life History of the Carolina 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 Carolina Chickadee – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.

CAROLINA CHICKADEE
PARUS CAROLINENSIS CAROLINENSIS AudubonCONTRIBUTED by EDWARD VON SIEBOLD DINGLE
HABITS

The Carolina chickadee, one of the four birds discovered by Audubon in the coastal part of South Carolina, is the low-country representative of the Boreal chickadee (atricapillus); yet carolinensis by no means confines itself to the Atlantic and Gulf coastal plains. It ascends the Blue Ridge Mountains probably higher than 5,000 feet, according to Brewster (1886), thus falling short by 1,500 or 1,600 feet of attaining the highest point in its range: Mount Mitchell, with an altitude of 6,684 feet. Brewster continues: “Common, and very generally distributed, ranging from the lowlands to at least 5,000 feet, and probably still higher. On the Black Mountains I found it breeding sparingly along the lower edge of the balsam belt, and thus actually mingling with P. atricapillus. In one place a male of each species was singing in the same tree, the low plaintive tswee- dee- tswee – dee of the P. carolinensis, contrasting sharply with the ringing te – derry of its more northern cousin. The fact that the two occur here together and that each preserves its characteristic notes and habits, should forever settle all doubts as to their specific distinctness.”

Other observers have recorded the birds in summer at altitudes of 3,300, 4,400, and 5,000 feet. But the center of abundance is unquestionably the great swamp areas of the Coastal Plain, where the writer has found it to be one of our commonest birds. Any wooded territory attracts them, it seems, except possibly extensive pine woods. But even small towns and villages often have their chickadees, and the writer has frequently seen it as a backyard resident.

Except during the actual breeding period, chickadees are nearly always seen in small bands: family parties, as it were. Late in summer and in fall they are invariably associated with tufted titmice, yellow-throated and pine warblers, brown-headed nuthatches, and downy woodpeckers; later in the winter their ranks are increased by myrtle warblers and the two kinglets. In such foraging bands, the tufted tits appear as leaders, with the chickadees as next in command.

No bird has endeared itself to us as much as the chickadee; its gentle, confiding ways, soft colors, and saucy air, as well as its readiness to patronize feed trays, render it a universal favorite.

There is evidence that our chickadees, like other members of the titmouse family, remain mated for periods longer than one breeding season; Nice (1933) records a pair of Carolina chickadees in Ohio that were associated for three winters and two summers.

Nesting: The Carolina chickadee is one of our early breeders; although much depends on whether the season is advanced or late, nest construction in the southern part of its range might begin as early as the first week or 10 days of February or as late as the end of March; in South Carolina excavations generally are begun in March, while in Ohio Wheaton (1882) says: “I have found the nest in this vicinity as early as the 18th of April, ready for the reception of eggs. The female sits very close, and is with difficulty driven from the nest.”

The favorite nesting sites are fence posts and decayed stubs of small saplings. And like the chimney swift, the chickadee offers another example of a bird that has partly abandoned primeval nesting conditions in favor of man’s more convenient replacements. The birds usually excavate their own burrows and select certain hardwoods or pines that are soft; but often peach and cherry stubs are used, and these have very hard outer bark. Dickey (MS.) lists 17 species of trees, all hardwood, that are used by carolinensis; to these the writer could add several pines and the peach. Woodpecker holes are sometimes used, as well as natural cavities in dead or live trees. Dickey writes that he has “known them to build in iron pipes used for clothes lines, pipes to support bridges, small bird houses, etc.”

Both sexes excavate, but the female probably does the most in nest construction. The average height of the nest above the ground would be about .5 or 6 feet. Dickey mentions 1 foot as the minimum distance from the ground, while Erichsen’s (1919) 22 feet must be considered the maximum.

According to Dickey, two weeks are required on an average to complete a burrow, but obviously this would depend on the depth of the excavation and the softness of the wood. In a peach stub, for example, after the hard shell has been pierced, the going would be easy. On the other hand, oak would be consistently harder to excavate. The san-ic observer gives average measurements of the completed burrows and entrance holes, as follows:

Diameter of aperture = 13/8 inches
Depth of cavity = 5 inches
Width of cavity at aperture = 2 inches
Width of cavity at nest enlargement = 23/8 inches

When the hollow has been excavated, nest-building is begun, as Dickey says, “with thick foundation of moss (Hypnurn) – strips of yellow and brown bark, a few strips of yellow grass and grass culms or panicles, a little thistle down or milkweed pod down, and then such bird feathers as those of sparrows, bluebird or of the parent. The cup is well padded with silvery milkweed or thistledown, animal hair, red hair of the cow, gray fur of the cottontail rabbit and fur also from deer, mice, and other Mammalia.”

Erichsen (1919) writes: “Simultaneous with the appearance of the down on the stalk of the cinnamon and royal ferns, which occurs during the middle of March, the chickadee begins nest-building, for this material is used largely by the birds in lining their nests. As far as my observations go, the birds, in gathering the down, always begin at the top of the stalk and work downward. The green moss that collects on the trunks of certain species of hardwoods is also used to a considerable extent, being always placed in the nesting hole first, and upon it the down is deposited.”

A constant habit of this bird is to build up one side of the nest higher than the other, thus making a flap, which is used to cover the eggs when the parent is away.

Both sexes take turns in incubating.

Dickey, in describing a nest in a sugar-maple fence post says: “Over a series of at least 15 consecutive seasons a pair of birds bred annually at this habitat”

Eggs: [AUTHOR’S NOTE: The Carolina chickadee lays five to eight eggs; six seems to be the commonest number. These are practically indistinguishable from the eggs of the black-capped chickadee, with similar variations. They are white, more or less unevenly marked with fine dots, spots or small blotches of shades of reddish brown. Often the spots are concentrated about the larger end. The measurements of 50 eggs average 14.8 by 11.5 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 15.9 by 11.8, 15.7 by 12.4, and 12.7 by 10.4 millimeters.]

Young: According to Dickey, “the period of incubation is exactly 11 days”

The same observer thus describes a newly hatched bird: “Length when spread out 6/8 of an inch. Color a rich pinkish white, say salmon hue. There were mere cilia of gray down on the head, back of wing stumps, lower hack or rump. The conspicuous eyeballs slate blue, meas. 3 mm. diameter. Leg length 7/16 of an inch. Wing stumps 1/8 in. long, 1/16 in. wide. Bill 1/8 in. long; 1/8 in. wide at base; a light horn color. * * * It was revealed that they remain inside nests exactly 17 days. They are showy at that stage; well coated with plumage that resembles closely that of the adults, mouse-gray coats and black heads. They are animated enough to snap at and grasp one’s fingers.”

Plumages: [AUTHOR’S NOTE: The plumages and molts in this chickadee parallel those of the black-capped chickadee. The young bird leaves the nest in practically full juvenal plumage, but with short wings and tail. In this plumage it is much like the adult, showing the distinctive wing edgings, but the black of the head and throat is duller, and the whole plumage is softer. A partial postjuvenal molt occurs in summer, 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 adult. Adults have a complete postnuptial molt in summer, but apparently no spring molt; the wash of pale pinkish buff on the flanks, and to a lesser extent on the back, characteristic of the fall plumage, disappears by wear and fading before nesting time, producing a grayer bird.]

Food: Howell (1932) writes: “The food of this species was studied by Beal (1916, pp 24-26), who examined 210 stomachs. Animal matter composed about 72 per cent, and vegetable matter 28 per cent, of the total contents. Nearly half (44 per cent) of the food for the year consisted of moths and caterpillars. Bugs appeared to be next in favor among the insects, including stink bugs, shield bugs, leaf hoppers, tree hoppers, plant lice, and scales. Ants, bees, wasps, beetles, cockroaches. and katydids were consumed in small numbers. Spiders were eaten in considerable numbers, composing more than 10 per cent of the total food. The vegetable food consisted principally of seeds of poison ivy (10 per cent) and of other unidentifiable seeds (12 per cent). A small quantity of blackberries and blueberries was eaten.”

Judd (1902) says that “seven Carolina Chickadees (Parus carolinensis) were taken during February, April, July, and August. Vegetable matter: mulberry seeds, pine seeds, and ragweed seeds: was present in four stomachs. All the birds had eaten insects. One had eaten I bee (Andrenidae), 2 ants, 3 insect eggs, 3 spiders, and 3 caterpillars (measuring worms, Geometridae and hairy Arctiidae, which are usually avoided by birds). One of the stomachs examined contained katydid eggs and two others eggs of the wheel-bug.”

The writer has often watched chickadees early in spring feeding on the eggs of certain moths or other insects; these are encased in silky yellow coverings and attached to the under sides of leaves of the live oak. The birds hunt through the trees, inspecting the under sides of the leaves, all the while uttering their soft, conversational notes. The leaves are picked from the twigs and carried to a convenient branch. Then holding the leaf with its feet, the bird tears the silk away and devours the eggs.

Blincoe (1923) records it as feeding late in summer on the seeds of the redbud tree, “swallowing them as fast as they could be removed from the pods.”

Brackbill (MS.) describes their manner of eating honeysuckle berries, which consists of holding the berry between the feet, as do blue jays, and hammering with their bills. Further, “examination of some of its discards showed them to be drilled through like beads, and but one seed remained in each. It seemed likely that some pulp and skin had been eaten, also.”

Kalter (1932) observed that Carolina chickadees were removing and dissecting flowers of the leafcup (Polymnia canadensis L.), and “investigation of the flower heads of this plant showed that most of them were infected with the small striped brown larvae of one of the Noctuid moths. The work of these insects seemed to cause the blossoms to rot and turn brown.”

Skinner (1928) says that, in winter, “they are easily attracted to dooryards and about our homes by banging up bones with bits of meat and gristle attached, to a tree or bush. They will also eat cheese and suet, and pick up bread and doughnut crumbs.”

Voice: There is probably no native bird song more pleasing than the music of this chickadee. It has not the loud, ringing quality of the tufted tit’s song, which comes to us from the blossoming dogwoods, half a mile away. Its voice is rather weak and the song a very simple one, but the notes are exquisitely mellow, soft, and satisfying.

Wayne (1910) writes: “The song period begins about the middle of February and the sweet notes are always welcomed as the herald of spring.” Dickey (MS.) thus describes the notes: “Usually it is detected as it scolds cats, screech owls, or a human intruder, whereupon it will vent syllables like dee-dee-dee-dee; chick-ah-dee-dee-dee-dee; sprittle-chick-ah-dee-dee-dee-dee; dee-dee-dee-pee-stick-dee; pee-tee-dee-dee-spee-teetle; spick-spick-ut-uh-dee, and phe-bee.” Sometimes there is a marked liquid flow of notes prior to the chickadee series as sputtle-dee, but this is hard to put down on paper. Perhaps it is well simply to say that their run of outcries are buzzing exclamations.

“The song has been described by some writers as ‘the pumphandle strain,’ and that will suggest its nature very well. Indeed this does remind one of the not unpleasant, old-fashioned sounds made by a windlass well. Spee-deedle-dee-deedle-dee is what the chickadee seems to say. I have heard it repeatedly on fair days in midwinter; it increases in frequency as March is ushered in; is pronounced everywhere in spring and early in summer (the breeding period); and casually a subdued, shortened song is vented on crisp autumn days, too.”

Aretas A. Saunders (MS.) has this to say about the song of carolinensis: “In my experience, the best way to identify a Carolina chickadee in the field is by its song. The song is enough different from the black-capped chickadee to name the bird instantly. The other call notes are not so easily distinguished.

“The song consists of two clear whistled notes, but each one is either introduced or followed by a shorter, lower-pitched, sibilant note. That is, instead of the bird singing a simple fee-bee, it sings s?fee-s?bee or else feesu beesu. These sibilant notes are like whispers rather than whistles, and I have known observers not to notice them and to think there was no essential difference in the song of this chickadee and the blackcap. The pitch and pitch interval of the clear, whistled notes are about the same as in the black-capped chickadee, one tone between them, and the notes pitched on B-A or A-G, in the highest octave of the piano. The sibilant notes are on a different pitch than the whistled ones, sometimes higher and sometimes lower. I have comparatively few records of the song of this species, however. Occasionally a bird sings three clear whistled notes, the second and third each lower than the preceding one.

“The season of singing is probably similar to that of the black-capped chickadee, but I have no extended notes except for the spring of 1908, when I was in central Alabama. Then I heard this species sing daily from my arrival early in March till the end of April. In May I heard the song frequently, but not daily, and heard it once or twice early in June. The other notes of this species are similar to those of the blackcap, the chickadee call being rendered somewhat faster.”

The writer has noticed that the Carolina chickadee, when disturbed on the nest, utters a peculiar note: an explosive little sound like a sneeze. My first experience with this note is described (1922) in part as follows: “Late in the afternoon of March 28, I tapped on the tree; one of the birds was inside and gave a peculiar note, not a hiss such as Mr. Schorger heard, but more like a little sneeze. This was repeated every time I tapped. Several times the bird tapped on the interior of the cavity. Finally it put its head out of the hole and looked calmly at me as I stood about three feet away. I withdrew and it went back into the hollow. No eggs had yet been laid.”

Dickey (MS.) describes the sounds as “hisses, serpent-like, and feared by unsuspecting boys.” Also, when examining young birds out of the nest, “the parents darted close to my hat, hissed not unlike a black snake, and vented a variety of buzzing and liquid outcries.

The writer has never seen chickadees when they were engaged in hissing, but Pickens (1928) has, and he describes the “defense demonstration” as follows:

One of the most courage-taking sounds that I have encountered in my field studies is the hiss of the copperhead snake (Agkistrodon mokasen). It lacks the animating interest we find in the ringing alarm of the rattlesnakes, and fills one with a kind of nausea. The reptile sounds as if it were inhaling a good part of the surrounding atmosphere and then discharging it in one sudden, explosive puff. There is nothing sedate and leisurely about it. Now the best imitation of that sound that I have heard is the explosive hiss of the brooding Carolina Chickadee (Penthestes carolinensis). * * * In preparing for the hiss, the bird, as seen from above, appears to rise slightly on the legs as if to give a freer swing to the movements of the body, while the head is thrown back over the shoulders at a right angle, or even an acute angle. The attitude of the bird is one of tense rigidity. Then, as if with a great effort, the bird nods the head strongly forward. The whole body, with the wings and tail, seems affected. The tail moves, the expanding wings shoot out sideways and strike the surrounding wood inside the cavity, and as the head comes stiffly down the bird emits a strong hiss or puff strikingly like that of the copperhead. The head is brought down quite upon the surface of the lining in front of the bird, and while the noise appears to be produced in part by the stiff rustling of the feathers, and the reverberations within the hollow of the surrounding wood, much, or the greater part of the noise certainly comes from the mouth and throat, and the hiss sometimes dies out in a faint little vocal squeak. All combine to make a fearful noise, and while mimicry is of course an unconscious, or better, an unintentional occurrence, there is no mistaking what the noise is to be taken for.

According to other observers, this snakelike sound is also employed by the northern chickadee (Penthestes atricapillus).

That the hissing note is not confined to North American chickadees is attested to by Jourdain (1929); he states that “the European Titmice produce warning noises in apparently exactly the same manner as the American Chickadee. I have frequently noticed this habit in the case of the British Great Tit (Parus major newtoni), on at least one occasion in the British Coal Tit (P. ater britannicus), and it is also characteristic of the British Blue Tit (P. caeruleus obscurus). Mr. Pickens’ description of the movements of the chickadee in producing this explosive hiss applies exactly to those of the Great Tit; but though well known to field-workers, there is little on record in the numerous books on British birds on the subject beyond a few references to ‘hissing like a snake,’ on the part of the setting Blue Tit.”

Enemies: Like all small birds, our chickadee has to be continually on the watch for small accipitrine hawks, cats, snakes, and small mammals; apparently the screech owl does not prey upon it to any extent, as the little bird tucks itself away at sundown in some hollow, too small for asio to enter.

That the cowbird occasionally imposes its domestic duties on the chickadee is shown by Friedmann (1938), who writes of “a nest containing five eggs of the chickadee and two of the cowbird, collected at Piney Point, St. Mary’s County, Maryland, April 25, 1934, by E. J. Court, who tells me that he caught the female Cowbird on the nest, about half an hour after daylight.”

Peters (1936) includes this bird in his list of avian hosts of external parasites; a Maryland specimen was found infected with lice of the species Degeeriella vulgata (Kell.), while mites [Trombicula irritans (Riley)], were taken from a South Carolina bird.

DISTRIBUTION

Range: Southeastern United States; nonmigratory.

The range of the Carolina chickadee extends north to southeastern Kansas (Independence); central Missouri (Columbia and St. Louis); Illinois (Carlinville and Ravinia); Indiana (Indianapolis and Anderson); Ohio (Phelps Creek and East Liverpool); Pennsylvania (Washington and Doylestown); and central New Jersey (Princeton and Point Pleasant). East to the Atlantic coast in New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida (Whittier). South to southern Florida (Whittier, Fort Myers, St. Petersburg, and Mulat); Louisiana (New Orleans, Bayou Sara, and Alexandria); and southeastern Texas (Houston and San Antonio). West to central Texas (San Antonio, Kerryille, Waco, Fort Worth, and Gainesville); Oklahoma (Wichita Mountains, Minco, Tulsa, and Copan); and southeastern Kansas (Independence).

The range as outlined is for the entire species, which has been separated into four geographic races. The typical Carolina chickadee (Parus carolinensis carolinensis) occupies all the range except Florida, where the Florida chickadee (P. c. impiger) is found, and the extreme western portion from northern Oklahoma south to the coast of Texas occupied by the plumbeous chickadee (P. c. agilis). A northern race, P. c. extimus, is said to range from New Jersey west to Missouri and south to northern North Carolina and Tennessee.

Casual records: This species has been recorded as an “accidental visitant” in western New York (Lancaster); one was taken at Ecorse, Mich., on July 17, 1899; and a specimen was collected at Keokuk, Iowa, on May 4, 1888.

Egg dates: Arkansas: 9 records, April 11 to May 15.

Florida: 14 records, March 30 to April 27.

New Jersey: 11 records, April 12 to June 15.

North Carolina: 12 records, April 8 to May 12.

Texas: 45 records, Feb. 16 to May 20; 23 records, March 26 to April 20, indicating the height of the season.

FLORIDA CHICKADEE

PARUS CAROLINENSIS IMPIGER Bangs

HABITS

The Florida chickadee is a small, dark-colored race of the well-known Carolina chickadee. It is fairly common and well distributed over most of the Florida Peninsula, except perhaps the extreme southern part. I have found it almost everywhere that I have been in central Florida, mainly in the live-oak hammocks and around the edges of the cypress swamps.

Arthur H. Howell (1932) records it also in “open pine timber,” and says: “A pair noted on the Kissimmee Prairie was occupying a small palmetto thicket, far from any large timber, a very unusual habitat.”

Nesting: Mr. Howell says that the nests “are placed in rotten stubs usually 10 to 15 feet from the ground.” A set of four eggs in my callection was taken by Oscar E. Baynard near Leesburg on March 30, 1910. The nest was about 5 feet up in a dead pine stub, about 5 inches in diameter, that stood on the edge of a small pond surrounded with pine trees. The cavity was about 7 inches deep; the nest was made of dry grass and lined with a few feathers and a considerable quantity of cattle hair and fur from a rabbit.

Frederick V. Hebard writes to me of a nest that was placed in the top of a 4-foot fence post along a road; “the nest was composed chiefly of dried grasses with a webbing of cypress bark strips and hairs, including two of a raccoon and one of a wildcat. The inside of the nest was softened with raccoon and fox-squirrel fur. The coon and wildcat hairs were probably taken from some of those trapped during winter.”

Eggs: Four or five eggs seem to be the usual numbers in the nests of the Florida chickadee, though very few data are available to the writer.

The eggs are practically indistinguishable from those of the Carolina chickadee. The measurements of 39 eggs average 15.1 by 12.1 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 18.1 by 14.8, 17.8 by 15.3, 12.9 by 11.5, and 13.8 by 10.7 millimeters.

Except as affected by the difference in environment, the food, behavior, and voice of this chickadee are similar to those of the more northern race, and the plumage changes are apparently the same.

PLUMBEOUS CHICKADEE

PARUS CAROLINENSIS AGILIS Sennett

HABITS

The 1931 Check-list says that this southwestern race of carolinensis “breeds in the Lower Austral zone from northern Oklahoma to Refugio and Kendall counties, Texas.” Mrs. Margaret Morse Nice (1931) says that it is rare in northwestern Oklahoma, but “resident in central Oklahoma from Tulsa and Hughes to Woodward and Jackson counties.” In the region of Austin, Tex., George Finlay Simmons (1925) regards it as a “fairly common permanent and regular resident; appears to be more common during winter because of its preference for civilization at that season.” Its haunts seem to be very similar to those of the Carolina chickadee: edges of woods, open woodlands, more or less open country, and, especially in winter, in towns and about houses.

It is slightly larger than specimens of P. c. carolinensis from the southern States, paler above and with whiter underparts.

Nesting: Mr. Simmons (1925) says that, about Austin, the nests are placed anywhere from 1 to 23 feet above ground, commonly about 10 feet, “generally in natural cavities in dead elm, Chinaberry, Spanish oak, live oak, post oak, or blackjack tree or stump; in broken tops of leaning stumps or trees in decayed limbs; in old woodpecker hollows of telegraph pole or fence post; in decaying posts of barbed-wire fences along edges of woodlands; hollow iron hitching posts in town; bird boxes about farm houses and town houses.” He says that in central Texas it seldom digs a hole of its own, unless forced to do so because of the scarcity of natural cavities.

He describes the nests as “composed of such warm materials as fine strips of bark (particularly of the cedar), soft green mosses, cowhair, plant fiber, wool, and feathers, with occasionally some rabbit fur, cotton, plant down, straw, bits of string, grass, horsehair, thistle down, and small buds. Lined with soft short cowhair, rabbit hair, plant down, and occasionally soft wool, plant fiber, cotton and feathers. Bottom of cavity filled with a good deal of green moss and occasionally with some cedar bark.”

Eggs: Mr. Simmons (1925) says that the set consists of three to eight eggs, most commonly six. These are apparently indistinguishable from those of other races of the species. The measurements of 40 eggs average 14.9 by 11.7 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 16.5 by 12.4, 15.6 by 12.7, and 13.5 by 10.5 millimeters.

Food: Mrs. Nice (1931) writes: “In Norman the Chickadees were among the most charming of our feeding shelf guests, announcing their arrival with a cheery peep, enjoying everything we had to offer except raisins, but fondest of sunflower seeds and nuts, sometimes taking baths in the water dish in January. * * * These little birds are so friendly, so full of individuality and have so many different notes and pretty ways that they afford a most promising subject for a careful life history study.”

Voice: Mr. Simmons (1925) gives an elaborate account of the voice of the plumbeous chickadee, which would probably apply equally well to that of the other races of carolinensis. He says that it is “quite unlike that of the northern Chickadees; a much higher pitched and more hurriedly uttered chickadee-dee-dee-dee, characteristic of the Southern species, frequently running into chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee; tweesee-dee-dee-dee-dee; a clearly whistled pseé-a-dee; a low plaintive tswee-dee-tswee-dee, of four tremulous whistled notes, in sharp contrast to the clear, ringing notes te-derry, of the Northern birds’; a low sicka-dee; a short chick-a-da; a clearer my watcher key, my watcher key; a series of day-day-day or dee-dee-dee-dee notes.”

NORTHERN CAROLINA CHICKADEE

PARUS CAROLINENSIS EXTIMUS (Todd and Sutton)

Todd and Sutton (1936) named this northern race, which ranges from New Jersey westward to Missouri and southward to northern North Carolina and Tennessee. They describe it as “similar to Penthestes carolinensis carolinensis (Audubon), but averaging larger, sex for sex; pale edgings of wings and tail averaging considerably more conspicuous; sides and flanks brighter reddish brown; and sides of head slightly grayer.” The habits presumably are like those of the nominate race.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of Birdzilla.com. He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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