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Mountain Chickadee

Known for their gray plumage, these birds are widespread across the western side of North America.

Common and widespread throughout much of the mountainous western U.S. and Canada where coniferous forests occur, the Mountain Chickadee sometimes wanders farther east into foothills and plains during the winter. These winter movements by Mountain Chickadees are usually related to a food shortage.

Mountain Chickadees consume many insects during the spring and summer. In fall and winter they eat conifer seeds, and are known to cache them for later consumption. Because the Mountain Chickadee is a cavity nester, nest parasitism by the Brown-headed Cowbird is very rare.


Description of the Mountain Chickadee


The Mountain Chickadee has grayish upperparts and wings, whitish underparts, a black cap and throat, a white face, and a black line through the eye with a white line above it.  Length: 5 in.  Wingspan: 8 in.


Sexes similar.

Seasonal change in appearance



Juveniles are similar to adults.


Mountain Chickadees occur in coniferous mountain forests, and sometimes in lower mixed forests.


Mountain Chickadees eat insects, seeds, and berries.


Mountain Chickadees usually forage very high in trees, and are active and agile like other chickadees.


Mountain Chickadees occur in the western U.S. and Canada.  The population has declined in recent decades.

Fun Facts

Mountain Chickadees have a strong social hierarchy within their groups, and also frequently associate in flocks with other species outside of the breeding season.

Mountain Chickadees seem capable of monitoring the amount of time spent foraging in a location before prey is found, and when that interval becomes longer they switch to a new location.


The song is a series of 3 to 6 high whistles.  The call is a “chick adee dee”, similar to that of the Black-capped Chickadee


Similar Species

  • Black-capped Chickadees have more buff color in the flanks, pale gray to whitish in the wings, and lack the white stripe above the eye.


The nest is a foundation of moss and plant fibers placed in a natural or excavated cavity, sometimes very low but up to 25 feet high.

Number: Usually lay 7-9 eggs.
Color: White with darker markings.

Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 14 days, and leave the nest in another 21 days, though continuing to associate with the adults for some time.


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



This northern race of the white-browed chickadees (gambeli,) is thus described by Mr. van Rossem (1928) : “In relative proportions of wing and tail Parus gambeli grinneW most closely resembles Pat-us gambeli gambeli (Ridgway), from which it differs in smaller size and darker coloration. On interscapular region it is of the identical shade of Pat-us atricapillus atricapillus (Linnaeus) ”

Its range includes northern British Columbia, eastern Washington, east-central Oregon, and northern Idaho. Just where it intergrades with the mountain chickadee of the Rocky Tvlountains and the shorttailed chickadee of northern California does not seem to be definitely known.

The remarks by Dawson and Bowles (1909) on the mountain chickadee, as they found it in eastern Washington, evidently apply to this race. Mr. Dawson found two nests “placed in decayed stumps not above three feet from the ground. One, in a wild cherry stub in northern Okanogan County, contained fresh eggs on the 18th day of May. Their color had been pure white, but they were much soiled thru contact with the miscellaneous stuff which made up the lining of the cavity: moss, cow-hair, rabbits’ wool, wild ducks’ down, hawks’ casts, etc”

At another nest, containing young, “it was an unfailing source of interest to see the busy parents hurrying to and fro and bringing incredible quantities of provisions in the shape of moths’ eggs, spiders, wood-boring grubs, and winged creatures of a hundred sorts. Evidently the gardener knew what he was about in sheltering these unpaid assistants. Why, when it comes to horticulture, three pairs of Chickadees are equal to one Scotchman any day”

The measurements of eight eggs average 16.1 by 12.2 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 16.3 by 12.3, 14.7 by 12.2, and 16.2 by 12.1 millimeters. They are apparently indistinguishable from those of the mountain chickad”e.


The 1931 Check-list gives the range of this race of the mountain chickadee as “higher mountains of central and northern California, southern Oregon, and northwestern Nevada south to Mt. Sanhedrin and Mt. Whitney.” It thus occupies a range intermediate between the ranges of three other races, but it does not seem to be intermediate in characters and is therefore a good subspecies. Dr. Grinnell (1918) gives its characters as “tone of color on sides, flanks and back the same as in inycensis, though not quite so pale, namely, in fresh plumage, cartridge buff. Tail much shorter than in either gansbeli or inycensis; and bill averaging smaller than in any of the other three races”

W. E. Griffee writes to me that “this chickadee is common throughout the ponderosa pine and lodgepole pine country of eastern Oregon, particularly in the lodgepole areas”

As to their haunts in the Lassen Peak region, Grinnell, Dixon, and Linsdale (1930) state: “In the higher portions of the section chickadees were observed to frequent lodgepole pines, white firs, hemlocks, yellow pines, and junipers. At lower altitudes, in winter, the birds were observed also in blue oaks and valley oaks. Wherever found, this bird foraged about the ends of branches and over twigs in the outer parts of the foliage of the trees. Apparently the more open portions of the woods, or their marginal portions, were most favorable for the species”

Nesting: The same authors report several nests found in the above region. Most of the nests were in low stumps in clearings, in open spaces, or on the edges of the woods, either in natural cavities of crevices or in rotting or burnt stubs, so that in most cases the birds had little or no excavating to do. Two nests were in old woodpeckers’ holes. Most of the nests were less than 2 meters above the ground; the lowest was only 165 millimeters up; and the highest was nearly 5 meters from the ground. The only lining mentioned was rabbit fur.

Chester Barlow (1901) found a nest under the baseboards of a cabin in which he was camping. The bird had entered through a rough hole in the boards, and “the nest had been built on a joist under the cabin in a space ten inches long and seven and a half inches wide. This had been filled with cow-hair, squirrel fur and hemp picked up from about the dairy, and when the nest was removed it presented a solid mat 2Y2 inches thick and of the dimensions given. Near the center of the mat a round cavity 23/2 inches across and I 3/~ inches deep held the eight eggs”

J. E. Patterson has sent me a photograph of a nest that was in the under side of the bole of a prostrate pine log, only a few inches above the ground.

Mr. Griffee says in his notes: “Nesting cavities usually are 4 to 8 feet above ground and situated in lodgepole pines when that species is available. Often they will choose a live lodgepole tree, even when punky aspen stubs are available. Nesting pines often have heart rot, which makes the excavating easier than it looks from the outside, but nevertheless the work of excavation must be several times as arduous as that usually performed by the Oregon chickadee. Entrance holes are about 1 ~ inches in diameter and often go straight back as much as 4 or 5 inches to the heart of the tree before turning down for 8 to 12 inches. The bottom of the cavity, often irregular in shape because of an intruding knot, is lined with more or less shredded bark upon which is piled a lot of rodent fur. As the fur is short and not felted together compactly, the nest will not hold its shape when removed from the cavity.

“In my experience, the short-tailed chickadee always stays on the nest from the time the first egg is laid. Probably this is necessary because of the great abundance of chipmunks, which are small enough to run into a chickadee nesting hole and make a meal of the eggs, if the parent bird were not on the job at all times. The Oregon chickadee, which nests where chipmunks are much less common, and makes a smaller entrance to its nesting cavity, apparently is not so much bothered by chipmunks and so does not hesitate to leave its nest unguarded until incubation begins”

Eggs: The eggs of the short-tailed chickadee apparently do not differ materially from those of other races of the species. They are mostly plain, pure white, but usually some of the eggs in a set are more or less finely speckled with reddish brown. The numbers I have seen recorded run from five to nine in a set. The measurements of 40 eggs average 16.1 by 12.3 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 17.0 by 11.9, 16.5 by 13.2, and 14.7 by 11.4 millimeters.

Young: Grinnell, Dixon, and Linsdale (1930) noted one case where two broods were raised in a season in the same nest; probably two broods are often raised. At a nest that they watched the young were fed 11 times within half an hour, between 8.59 and 9.30 A.M., at intervals varying from one to seven minutes, but usually at intervals of three or four minutes. Such food as could be seen consisted of green caterpillars. Both old birds helped in the feeding and in keeping the nest clean, carrying away the excrement sacs.

Mrs. Wheelock (1904) gives the period of incubation as 14 days. She says that the young remained in the nest nearly three weeks, which seems to be an unusually long time for such small birds; and for fully two weeks longer they were begging to be fed. She observed that “the nestlings were fed by regurgitation until four days old, when fresh food was given”

Food: Strangely enough, nothing specific seems to have been published on the food of any of the races of the mountain chickadee; if there has, I have been unable to find it. But its feeding habits are similar to those of the other chickadees; it has repeatedly been observed examining the twigs, foliage, and crevices in the bark of trees, where it doubtless finds a variety of insect food; and it is fair to assume that its food does not differ very materially from that of other members of the genus. Grinnell and Storer (1924) have seen one thoroughly examining the interior of a rotted-out cavity, where it probably found insect food of some kind.

Behavior: Grinnell, Dixon, arid Linsdale (1930) describe in some detail the intimidation behavior of this species when the nest is invaded:

When a slab of rotten wood was removed the bird lunged, at the same time spreading its wings convulsively, and then gave a prolonged hissing sound: just that order of procedure. The bird repeated this performance nineteen times by count before it suddenly flew from the nest at the close approach and light touch of the observer’s hand. The body had been kept closely depressed into the nest cavity. The lunges were rather inane: the bird simply struck out, in one direction and then another. At the moment of the lunge, the black-and-white striping of the head brought her into abrupt and conspicuous view of the observer peering into the cavity: reinforcing the surprise effect of the sounds produced. At times, the hissing sound was produced, the wall of the cavity was struck, and the white of the head moved, all at the same instant. * * * During the winter chickadees regularly made up portions of the companies of birds of several species that foraged together through the day. Some of the individuals that moved to low altitudes in winter joined circulating bands of bush-tits.

Grinnell and Storer (1924) write: “After the nesting season the chickadees and several others of the smaller birds are wont to associate with one another in flocks of varying size. Such a gathering was seen in Yosemite Valley on July 30, 1915. Included in the openly formed yet coherent aggregation were the following species: Mountain Chickadee, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Western Chipping Sparrow, Sierra Creepers, Warbling Vireo, and Cassin Vireo. The birds were foraging through black oaks, incense cedars, and young yellow pines, each kind of bird of course adhering to its own particular niche and own method of getting food”



This race of the white-browed chickadees occupies the higher maimtains of southern California, from Tulare and Monterey Counties to San Diego County. It was named for that distinguished and popular ornithologist, Mrs. Florence Merriam Bailey, who has done so much for western ornithology.

Dr. Joseph Grinnell (1918) gives as his diagnosis of it: “Tone of coloration on sides, flanks and back distinctly plumbeous: more exactly, on sides and flanks the ‘smoke gray’ of Ridgway (1912, p1. 46), and on back near the ‘mouse gray’ of the same authority (p1. 51). The tail in this race is short as in abbreviat us, but the bill is long and heavy, averaging thicker through than in any of the other three races”

Like other races of the species, Bailey’s chickadee finds its favorite haunts, during the breeding season at least, in the coniferous forests of the mountains, from the lower borders of the pines up to 10,000 feet or higher, or perhaps as far as the evergreen forest extends. In the San Bernardino Mountains, Dr. Grinnell (1908) found these chickadees in the tamarack pine belt as high as 10,600 feet; and in August they were common in the pinyons and chaparral, and as far down the desert slope as Cactus Flat, at 6,000 feet.

Nesting: J. Stuart Rowley writes to me: “I have found these chickadees nesting in cavities and woodpecker holes rather abundantly throughout the higher mountains of southern California. They nest as high as 35 feet up and down to within a foot of the ground, as a rule, but on June 9, 1935, while I was collecting on Mount Pinos, Ventura County, I saw a chickadee go down a squirrel hole underneath a dead pine stub in a little clearing. Upon investigating, this bird was seen on a nest on the ground in the excavation under the stub; the nest contained five eggs ready to hatch. This is the only nest of a chickadee I have ever found which was actually below the level of the ground”

In the San Bernardino Mountains, Dr. Grinnell (1908) reports:

A nest found June 17. 1905, near the mouth of Fish Creek, occupied a vertical slit in a dead black-oak stub. The nest was not more than three feet from the ground and was made of soft, downy plant fibers, and contained six newlyhatched young. Another nest was found June 21 on a ridge near Dry lake. This was twenty feet from the ground in a dead fir stub, and was ensconced behind the loosened bark. It consisted of fur, apparently from the woodrat and chipmunk. and contained five eggs in which incubation was well advanced. Another nest containing seven young was found the same day in a cavity of a pine stub even with the surface of the ground. A fourth nest in the same locality contained six small young. In this case the nest was a felted mass of deer hair and woodrat fur, intermingled with a few feathers. It was in a knot-hole of a dead fir sapling, two and one-half feet from the ground. In 1906, at Dry lake, June 15, a set of five slightly incubated eggs of this species was taken from an old sapsucker hole twenty feet above the ground in a dead tamarack pine. The nest was a large mass of reddish deer hair.

There is a set of seven eggs in my collection, taken by Wright M. Pierce near Bear Lake in these mountains on May 19, 1923, from a cavity on the under side of a large, dead, fallen yellow pine.

Eggs: The eggs of Bailey’s chickadee are evidently similar to those of the type race, the mountain chickadee, as described under that form, sometimes pure white, but oftener more or less lightly spotted with fine dots of light browns. I have no record of such large sets as mentioned under the mountain chickadee, but they may occur. The measurements of 40 eggs average 16.2 by 12.7 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extreme measure 17.7 by 13.5, and 14.6 by 11.6 millimeters.

Voice: Ralph Hoffmann (1927) gives a slightly different account of the voice of this chickadee from that quoted under the mountain chickadee. He writes:

A visitor from the East misses the familiar Black-capped Chickadee from the rich bird life in the lowlands of southern California. Let him, however, climb a few thousand feet up any of the mountain ranges, among the yellow pines, and there will be, if not his eastern friend, at any rate a close relative. The Mountain Chickadee is so close to the eastern bird, so like in voice, habits and appearance, that it will take a few moments to discover the difference. The bird clings head downward to an outer twig, hammers a seed open on a limb, lisps tsee-dee-dee to its fellows and is apparently the same active, cheery mite. The sweet whistled call is more often made up of three (sometimes four) notes than that of the Eastern bird. Sometimes the three notes come down the scale to the tune of ‘Three Blind Mice.’ At other times the last two are the same pitch tee-dee-dee. Occasionally the bird either leaves off the third note or adds a fourth. As the diickadee gleans from twigs, it utters a hoarse tsick t.rick dee dee or a husky Isee dee, and other little gurgling or lisping calls, and a sharp tsik-a when startled or excited.

PARUS GAMBELI ATRATUS (Grinnell and Swarth)
In naming and describing this Lower California subspecies, Grinnell and Swarth (1926) remark:

The race of Mountain Chickadee of the Sierra San Pedro Martir, as compared with related subspecies, exhibits an appreciable darkening of the plumage in the direction not of brown but of slate. This darkening is most apparent on the flight feathers, which are slaty black as compared with the more brownish-hued quill feathers of other races; but it shows also in more leaden-hued flanks and upper pQrts. This general leaden tone of coloration is quite apparent in fresh plumaged birds, but it is a character that tends to be lest even when the feathers become only slightly worn.

Together with this darkening there is restriction in the area covered by the one conspicuous white marking on this bird, the superciliary stripe, which marking extends forward in fresh plumage to nearly or quite meet its fellow on the forehead. The white on the head of afratus is not only less in area occupied, but it is shallower; and birds in breeding plumage, when it is rcduced or effaced by wear, come to bear a curious resemblance about the head to Penthestes africahilus.

They gave the range of this form, “so far as known, only the main plateau of the Sierra San Pedro Martir”; and they state that it “adheres closely to the coniferous belt of the Transition and Canadian lifezones.” The 1931 Check-list extends its range to include the Sierra Ju~rez, of northern Lower California.

It probably does not differ materially in its habits from other races of the species.

The measurements of 6 eggs average 16.5 by 12.6 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 16.8 by 12.7, 16.5 by 13.0, and 16.2 by 11.7 millimeters.


The species Parus gambeli occupies a wide territory in western North America, from British Columbia to Lower California and from the Rocky Mountain region westward to the Pacific coast region, in all suitable mountain ranges. The type race, the subject of this sketch, is confined to the Rocky Mountain region, from Wyoming and Montana southward to Arizona, New Mexico, and central western Texas.

It is well named the mountain chickadee, for, during the breeding season at least and for much of the remainder of the year its favorite haunts are the coniferous forests of the mountains, from 6,000 up to 11,000 feet, but mainly at the higher levels, 8,000 to 10,000 feet. Belo~v the coniferous forests it is largely or wholly replaced by the long-tailed chickadee.

In fall the mountain chickadees, with their young, range up to timberline or even beyond; in fall and during winter they often range down to the foothills and valleys, where they are sometimes seen together with the long-tailed chickadees in the fringes of cottonwoods and willows along the streams.

Mrs. Bailey (1928) says that, in New Mexico, “they may be met with almost anywhere in the forested mountains. In Santa Clara Canyon, where we found them in the oaks, nut pines, and junipers of the south slope, down along the creek, in the turns where the sun came in, they were in the alders and birches together with migrating warbiers, vireos, and flycatchers. But they are found in the high, dark, coniferous forests as well, and it is here that their cheery notes are most gratefully heard”

In his paper on the subspecies of the mountain chickadee, Dr. Joseph Grinnell (1918) says: “Among the four subspecies of Penthestes gambeli here rec.ognized, color alone is sufficient for distinguishing P. gambeli gambeli. The flanks, sides of body and back in this form are pervaded with a distinct tinge of cinnamon: more exactly, the ‘pinkish buff’ of Ridgway (1912, p1. 29). In addition, this race shows the greatest length of tail, and slenderest bill”

Nesting: The mountain chickadee does not seem to be at all particular about the choice or location of its nest. It prefers, however, to place its nest in a natural cavity in a tree, or in an old woodpecker hole, and I believe that it does not excavate its own nest cavity if it can find one already made for it. Its nest has been found at heights ranging from 2 to 80 feet above the ground, the extreme heights being very rare; apparently very few nests are more than 15 feet from the ground, and many are less than 6 feet up. J. K. Jensen (1923) says that, in New Mexico, he often finds this chickadee nesting in bird boxes, and he has “found the nests in cavities in pine stumps, in quaking aspens and under rocks.” Later (1925) he writes:

“May 15, 1925, I made a trip ten miles southeast of Santa Fe intending to examine a number of bird boxes. One of the boxes contained a set of six eggs of the Mountain Chicadee (Penthestes gambeli gambeli) and three eggs of the Gray Titmouse (Ba,eolophus inornatus griseus) with the Chicadee incubating. I took out the six eggs of the Chicadee and left those of the Titmouse. May 22, the Chicadee was incubating four Titmouse eggs, all of which hatched. June 8, I again visited the box and found the Chicadee busy feeding four young Titmice”

This chickadee is a very close sitter, reluctant to leave its nest, and it has developed to a very high degree the intimidation., reaction to the approach of an intruder, a habit shared by other species of chickadee. This consists of a loud hissing noise and a rapid fluttering of the wings, when the nest is invaded; it might be enough to frighten away some smaller enemy, but to man it serves only to illustrate the devotion of the brave little bird to its eggs or young; the heartless egg collector seldom rewards the devoted mother for her bravery.

The nest is made of soft mosses and the fur and hair of mammals, being warmly lined with finer material of the same kind, much like the nests of other chickadees.

Eggs: The mountain chickadee seems to lay very large sets. Sets of less than six are probably incomplete; and from that the numbers run up to 12, sets of 9 being common. There are 16 sets of eggs of this chickadee in the collection of the University of Colorado Museum; ~n this series there are three sets of 7, seven sets of 9, three sets of 10, two sets of 11, and one set of 12 eggs.

The eggs are normally ovate in shape, with variations toward roundedovate. The shell is smooth and practically lacking in gloss. The ground color is pure, dead white, with much variation in the extent of the markings. In most sets a small or a large proportion of the eggs are entirely unmarked; and in some sets all the eggs are spotless pure white. Some eggs are faintly marked all over the entire surface with fine dots of pale or reddish brown. In others these small spots are more (Ir less concentrated about the larger end. An occasional set is brilliantly marked with a ring of bright reddish brown or orange-rufous spots or small blotches.

The measurements of 40 eggs average 15.6 by 12.3 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 16.5 by 12.9, and 13.8 by 11.5 millimeters.

Young: I have no information on the period of incubation for this race.

Dean Amadon has sent me the following note on a nestful of young mountain chickadees that he observed at 9,800 feet on the east slope of Snowy Range, Medicine Bow Mountains, Wyo., about 20 feet from the ground in a natural crevice of a large lodgepole pine: “Both parents were feeding the young very frequently at the time, which was 7 P.M., just before dark. Once, when the two parents appeared with food at the same time, they crouched on limbs near the nest, opening and quivering their wings, as do young birds when begging for food. The young were noisy enough to be heard for about 30 feet from the nest tree; I was told that they had left the nest and were not seen two days later, on July 8. Nest was in rather dense pine stand, but only 40 feet from the clearing made by a main road”

Claude T. Barnes tells me that five tiny fledgings, in a nest that he examined, “hissed in the manner of a snake” when he reflected light into the nest. The nest was in a quaking aspen, which, “twisted by winds and snow, had cracked, making a cozy hole about 4 inches deep and 3 inches in diameter”

Plumages: In the juvenal plumage, young birds are much like adults but the white stripe over the eye is more imperfect, less distinct, and grayer; the black of the crown and throat is duller; and the edgings of the greater wing coverts and tertials are tinged with pale buff. The body plumage is softer and fluffier, less compact. The annual molt seems to occur mainly in August, though I have seen very few molting birds. Fall birds have the white superciliary stripe broader and more distinct, and the gray portions of the plumage slightly more huffy than in spring birds; in spring birds the superciliary stripe is reduced to a broken series of white streaks.

Voice: Aretas A. Saunders sends me the following note on the song of this chickadee, as heard by him in Montana: “The song of the mountain chickadee is similar in quality to that of the black-capped c~hickadee, a sweet, clear whistle, but it usually consists of three notes of equal length, each lower in pitch than the preceding, so that it is like feebee-bay. The bird occasionally responds to an imitation and comes to the observer, but not so readily as the black-cap does. The song is rather infrequently used”

Claude T. Barnes says in his notes: “Two chickadees, which from the white superciliary stripe I took to be gambeli, flitted about the maple trees uttering every second or so a single note chip. Once in a while one would issue a burring sound like trrrrrrrrrp. Overcome with curiosity at my immobility, they edged their way by little flits and various maneuvers behind tree trunks until they were within six feet of me, when, evidently being satisfied, they as casually worked their way from me”

Edward R. Warren (1916) writes: “They seemed to say ‘chick-a-deea-dee-a-dee’, not ‘chick-a-dee-dee’ as the Black-caps do. And the tone was also different, but I cannot describe it”

Field marks: Although similar in general appearance and behavior to our more familiar black-capped chickadees, this species can be easily recognized by the usually conspicuous white stripe that runs from the bill over the eye and into the black cap. Its song is different, as described above, and its ordinary chickadee note is somewhat hoarser and more deliberate. Also, it is oftener found in the coniferous forests than is atricapillus.

Range: Mountains of the Western United States, Canada, and northern Baja California; nonmigratory.

The range of the mountain chickadee extends north to northern British Columbia (Atlin and Nine Mile Mountain); Alberta (Smoky Valley and Banff); and central Montana (Gold Run and Fort Custer). East to eastern Montana (Fort Custer and Red Lodge); eastern Wyoming (Wheatland and Laramie) ; Colorado (Golden, Pikes Peak, and Fort Garland); New Mexico (Willis and Capitan Mountain) ; and western Texas (Davis Mountains). South to southwestern Texas (Davis Mountains); southwestern New Mexico (Pinos Altos Mountain) ; southern Arizona (Santa Catalina Mountains) ; and northern Baja California (San Pedro Mitrtir Mountains). West to Baja California (San Pedro M~rtir Mountains and Sierra Ju~xrez) ; central California (Barley Flats, Big Trees, Marysville, and Weed) ; Oregon (Pinehurst and Fort Klamath) ; Washington (Mount Rainier and Spokane); and British Columbia (Sunimerland and Atlin).

The range as outlined is for the entire species, which has been separated into at least six subspecies. The typical mountain chickadee (Parus g. ganzbeli) is found in the Rocky Mountain region from Wyoming and Montana south to western Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona; Grinnell’s chickadee (P. g. grinnelli) occupies the northern parts of the range from British Columbia south to central Oregon and northern Idaho: the short-tailed chickadee (P. g. abbreviatus) is found from southern Oregon south to central California and northwestern Nevada; Bailey’s chickadee (P. g. baileyae) is found in the higher mountains of southern California; the San Pedro Chickadee (P. g. atratus) is found in the mountains of northern Baja California; and the Inyo chickadee (P. g. inycensis) occupies the mountain areas of eastern California chiefly in Mono and Inyo Counties.

Egg dates: California: 82 records, May 4 to July 11; 42 records, May 22 to June 13, indicating the height of the season.

Colorado: 33 records, April 5 to June 23; 17 recQrds, June 3 to 11.

Oregon: 15 records, May 20 to June 12; 8 records, May 30 to June 6.

This is a pale race of the white-browed, or mountain, chickadees found in the more arid mountain regions of eastern California. Dr. Grinnell (1918) describes it as “the palest colored race of the four; sides, flanks and back, in unworn plumage, pervaded with pale buff: the ‘cartridge buff’ of Ridgway (1912, p1. 30). Wear or fading, or both, removes most of this buff tone, so that the resulting effect, in spring and summer birds, is of an ashy tone of coloration, distinctly lighter than in any of the other three subspecies, in same stage. It seems probable that there is a paler tone to the underlying plumage parts and that this becomes revealed by loss of the superficial pigmentbearing portions through the gradual progress of feather abrasion. Jnyoensis shows nearly as long a tail as does gambeli. Its bill is somewhat smaller”

He gives as its range “the higher mountains of eastern California lying east and southeast of Owens Valley, from the vicinity of the Mono Craters and the White Mountains, in Mono County, south to the Panamint Mountains, in Inyo County”

I cannot find anything in print about the haunts, nesting, eggs, food, or other habits of this subspecies, which are probably similar to those of mountain chickadees elsewhere.

The measurements of 9 eggs average 16.8 by 12.8 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 17.1 by 12.9, 17.0 by 18.0, 15.7 by 12.8, and 17.0 by 12.5 millimeters.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of 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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