Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Black-capped or Carolina Chickadee

Now that I am regularly traveling the mid-Atlantic area I have subscribed to the Maryland, Virginia, and Carolina birding listservs.  Several recent posts on these listservs are reporting Black-capped Chickadees entering en masse the traditional territory belonging to Carolina Chickadees.  They are such similar looking birds, this could pose all kinds of identification challenges and exciting opportunities for birders to see a new bird!

Carolina Chickadees have been present at almost every location I have birded in the mid-Atlantic and I finally got off a couple decent photos.  I love the blurred autumn foliage in the background.  These photos were cropped, but otherwise unedited.

I have studied up in my assortment of field guides on the differences between the two species with some of the key traits portrayed below.  Before I even looked in my field guide, I knew the Carolina Chickadee when I saw it.  My gut just tells me that it is smaller.  Carolinas certainly sound different than a Black-caps (click on name to listen).  The belly color seems more consistenly yellow/buff to me on the Carolina Chickadee, but a look at photo guides doesn't support my theory.  If you are really used to seeing one of these Chickadees, your eyes and mind will tell you when you see one that looks just enough different.  I would love to see them side-by-side for easy comparison, but below is the best I can do for now.


  1. Yes very similar looking ... a fun challenge for ID, love how you tackled it. Great post.

  2. Nice post. Unfortunately in North Carolina the two are almost never seen in the same place, and BC Chick has a long and sordid history in the state (one I wrote about here:

    In short, in areas where they both occur, or where BCs historically occurred but no longer occur, they tend to imitate each other's vocalizations. So, I guess... good luck. :)

  3. Thanks Debbie and Nate for the comments. Nate, I remember your post asking eBirders to take the time to note the difference between the two species. So they mimick each other where they cross? Eww, that makes it extra tough.

  4. Yeah, it's bizarre. You can find BCs in North Carolina but only up in Great Smoky Mt NP.

    That said, In Appalachian Virginia they're regular above 3000 feet or so.

  5. Magnolia, TX We have a nesting pair in a house right on our front porch support - lots of peeping coming from inside so any day now we'll know how many babies. Your notes will help us know which bird we have ... Thank you!

  6. Nice pictures! Since I live in South Carolina we have both the Black Cap and Caolina Chickadees. Looking at the eggs you can't tell them apart but I think I found a Black Cap Chickadee nest with eggs while hiking. I saw the female several times as she did not like me hear her nest. check out the eggs,
    Black Cap Chickadees Eggs in Nest

    You've got alot of good information and beautiful pictures on your site.