Vancouver Avian Research Centre

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 Species: Chestnut-backed Chickadee  Poecile rufescens


This chickadee, the most colourful of chickadees, can be found during the non-breeding season in flocks of other Chestnut-backed Chickadees and in mixed species flocks of Kinglets, Nuthatches, Creepers and Titmice.  The conspicuous flocks move through the forest foraging together. 

It is resident in coastal regions of south-central Alaska southward along the Pacific Northwest coast and coastal islands to north-central California.  There are inland populations in areas of B.C., Washington, Montana, Oregon, Idaho and California. 


General:  A small and short-tailed Chickadee with distinctive chestnut-brown back.  Length: 12cm.  Weight: 9.7g. 

Adult Male:  The cap from the forehead to hind neck and just below the eyes is dark brown-black.  The chin is black with a narrow white cheek. The back, rump and flanks are a deep chestnut brown.  The sides and belly are dull grayish. The wings are brownish gray with whitish edging on the inner secondaries and greater coverts, which are also tipped with white.  The tail is brownish gray with paler gray edgings.  The bill is black, legs and feet are dark grey and the eyes are dark brown.  Adult plumages are similar throughout the year. 

Adult female:  Females are slightly smaller but plumage is similar to that of the male. 

Juvenile: Juveniles closely resemble adults. 

Similar Species:  The chestnut back, rump and flanks as well as its smaller size distinguishes the Chestnut- backed Chickadee from other chickadees. 

Behaviour:  This chickadee moves quickly while foraging for insects, berries and seeds taking them from twigs and branches.  It sometimes hovers while taking food from above or below branches.  It probes in crevices of bark and takes seed and suet from feeders.  Chestnut-backed chickadees often travel in small flocks of four to 20 birds. 

Habitat:  This is a bird of moist coniferous forests consisting of spruce, fir, tamarack, hemlock and cedars. In British Columbia it can also be found in mixed coniferous deciduous forests. In the southern part of its range it lives in oak woods, streamside willow groves, pine-oak woods as well as in redwood forests with an understory of alders and willows. 


Unlike the familiar Black-capped Chickadee the Chestnut-backed lacks a whistled song. 

In its very humid coastal belt, in wet forests of hemlock and tamarack this is the only chickadee present. 

It is not known to migrate.  In B.C. it is considered non-migratory but there is post- breeding dispersal to higher elevations in late summer and early autumn.

A cavity nester, the nest can be up to 80 feet high but is usually restricted to between two and 20 feet high.  It may utilize vacant woodpecker cavities, nest boxes or tree cavities.  The nest has foundation of moss, lichens, and feathers, bark fibers, plant down, lined with soft materials such as animal hair.  Six to seven white eggs with reddish brown dots are laid. 


Populations appear stable throughout their range.
Capture Rates

Although a year-round resident , the Chestnut-backed Chickadee can exhibit seasonal movements where during the summer months, it moves to higher elevations. This, along with the fact that they prefer dense, wet coniferous forests make this chickadee a rare visitor to our banding station as suggested by the capture rates (2010-2012; standardized as birds captured per 100 net hours) peaking in March/April then appearing again in September, skipping the summer months altogether.


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