Carolina Chickadees (Poecile carolinensis) are native to the southeastern United States. They are known for their distinctive black cap and bib, as well as their cheerful, chick-a-dee-dee-dee call.
These energetic birds are often seen flitting through forests and woodlands, darting from tree to tree in search of food.
Despite their small size, Carolina Chickadees are tough and adaptable, able to survive harsh winters and changing habitats.
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Carolina Chickadees are tiny birds, measuring just 3.9-4.7 inches long with a wingspan of 5.9-7.9 inches. They have short necks and round heads that are large in terms of their body size, which gives them an overall spherical appearance. The birds have narrow tails, small and short black bills, black eyes, and dark legs.
Male and female Carolina Chickadees look identical. Males are generally slightly larger than females, but it is hard to make that difference out in the field.
Although not colorful, they still have beautiful plumage of black, white, gray, and tan.
Their cap and throat are black, cheeks white, back, wings, and tail soft gray, and underside light tan. The white edgings on their wing feathers aren’t very noticeable and may appear uniformly gray. Juvenile Carolina Chickadees look like adults but are slightly duller.
Carolina Chickadees have many songs and calls to communicate with each other. The most common song consists of four rather high-pitched whistles that sounds like fee-bee-fee-bay. The first and third notes are higher-pitched and the second and fourth notes lower-pitched.
Their calls are quick and high-pitched chickadee-dee-dee or just dee-dee-dee. They also gargle and whistle. Incubating females hiss and bang themselves against the nest when an intruder approaches the nest.
Carolina Chickadees are omnivorous. Their specific diet depends on the time of the year. During the warmer months and the breeding season, they mostly feed on animal matter whereas during the winter their diet primarily consists of plant matter.
The animal part of their diet includes small insects, bugs, beetles, spiders, aphids, moths, and caterpillars. Seeds, small fruit, and berries from various plants and trees such as poison ivy, blueberry, pine, mulberry, ragweed, blackberry, and honeysuckle make up the plant part of their diet.
Carolina Chickadees usually forage on tree branches and trunks, hopping from twig to twig and gleaning food from them.
You may also see it scratching around in leaf litter, hanging upside down from branches and plants, picking seeds from fallen pine cones, hovering to snatch something from branches, or flying out to catch insects in mid-air. Sometimes they hammer seeds against trees and branches to open them.
Caching seeds and other food items for later consumption is also common. In the winter, they often visit bird feeders for suet and seeds.
Nesting and Eggs
Carolina Chickadees form pairs in late fall and winter, during which males become aggressive towards other chickadees and start singing. Mated pairs remain together for the season, but if both survive the winter, they may choose each other as mates again in the following breeding season and possibly mate for life.
The pair establishes nesting territory after winter flocks disperse and actively defend it.
Carolina Chickadees nest in cavities 2-25, usually 5-15 feet above the ground. The pair typically enlarges a small natural cavity in dead wood or picks an already existing hole, such as an old woodpecker hole, or a nesting box. The female builds the nest. The base is made of moss, bark strips, and other matter, and the inside is lined with softer material, such as animal hair and plant down.
These birds have only one brood per year with 3-10, mostly 5-8 eggs in a clutch. Carolina Chickadee eggs are white with fine reddish-brown dots and measure about 0.6 inches long and 0.4 inches wide.
The female incubates the eggs for 12-15 days and broods the young for about 8 days. Both parents feed their offspring. Juvenile Carolina Chickadees leave the nest 16-19 days after hatching and become independent 2-3 weeks after that.
Carolina Chickadees range throughout the southeastern United States. They are year-round residents and do not migrate. However, young birds may disperse up to 5 miles from their natal site.
Carolina Chickadees mainly inhabit temperate forests with bodies of water nearby. They can be found in both mixed and deciduous forests, although they prefer deciduous ones, swamps, river groves, and even in well-wooded suburbs and parks.
Carolina Chickadees are listed as a species of least concern on the IUCN Red List, and their overall population remains stable. They are an important part of the ecosystem as both predator and prey. When a predator is detected, they may either mob it, put on a display to try to scare it away, or stay still and hope that it doesn’t notice them.
Carolina Chickadees have a complex dominance hierarchy within their flocks. Smaller males are subordinate to bigger ones and females are subordinate to males. When two flocks meet, the leaders establish which one is more dominant.
During the mating season, the stronger males chase away weaker individuals and pairs. Some birds switch flocks and they may have different ranks in each of them.
Carolina Chickadees look almost identical to Black-capped Chickadees. Where their ranges overlap, the two may interbreed with the resulting hybrids being a mix of the two.
During very cold winters, Carolina Chickadees can intentionally induce a temporary state of hypothermia which is done to conserve energy. They hide in cavities for up to 15 hours, during which they’re awake but unresponsive.
Carolina Chickadees may live up to 11 years old, although their average lifespan is about two to three years due to various environmental factors, food availability, and predation. Putting out bird feeders with seeds and suet has proved to help increase their survivability.
After the female Carolina Chickadee has laid eggs, she will continue to add material to the nest to cover them.
We have introduced three species that are rather similar to Carolina Chickadees and appear throughout the same range as them. Black-capped Chickadees are almost identical, so be sure to read carefully about how to determine which is which.
These two species are almost indistinguishable. You can determine which one you saw by where you saw it, what sounds it made, and slight differences in their appearance. Luckily, they have very little overlap.
Black-capped Chickadees range throughout northern North America, whereas Carolina Chickadees can be found in the southeastern United States.
Black-capped Chickadees have a more melodic song, and the calls of Carolina Chickadees are more rapid. As for appearance, Black-capped Chickadees have more white on their wing edges.
Opposed to Carolina Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches have a bluish back and lack the black throat. Their tails are shorter and their bills longer.
Nuthatches and chickadees also behave differently, the former climbing on tree trunks and the latter gleaning food and hanging from smaller twigs and branches.
Male Blackpoll Warblers look similar with their black, white, and grayish plumage.
However, they lack the black throat and light tan flanks, they are heavily streaked and have a small head, whereas Carolina Chickadees are uniformly colored and have a large head.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the difference between a Carolina and Black-capped Chickadee?
Differences between the Carolina and the Black-capped Chickadee mainly lie in their range and vocalizations. Carolina Chickadees range throughout the southeastern United States, have quicker calls, and more uniformly colored wings whereas Black-capped Chickadees range throughout northern North America, have more melodic songs, and have more white on their wing edges.
What is a common name for a Carolina chickadee?
Carolina Chickadees may also be called tits or just chickadees. They were formerly known as Parus carolinensis.
Are Carolina chickadees common?
Carolina Chickadees are common throughout their range with an overall stable population.
What does a Carolina chickadee symbolize?
Carolina Chickadees symbolize happiness, satisfaction, hope, and good fortune.