This energetic little black, white, and gray bird is familiar to most Tennesseans because it readily visits bird feeders and it frequently calls its name while foraging, chick-a-dee-dee. Carolina Chickadees are found year round throughout the state anywhere there is forest and are absent only from the high elevations in the Appalachian Mountains where Black-capped Chickadees are often present. The breeding range extends from New Jersey westward to southeastern Kansas and central Texas, southward to the Gulf Coast and northern Florida.
Description: This small, short-billed bird has a black cap, black bib, and white cheeks. The back is an unstreaked gray, the underparts are whitish with gray or brownish flanks. Tail and wings are gray, upper wing feathers with no or only a little white edging. Males, females and immature birds are similar in appearance.
Weight: 0.37 oz
Voice: The song is a four-part clear whistle fee-bee fee-bay or car o line a, and a high pitched, rapid chicka dee dee dee. Winter call notes are high and thin.
- The Black-capped Chickadee looks very similar, but is slightly larger, has more extensive gray edging in its wings, and a black bib that generally less defined and appears uneven. The easiest way to distinguish the two species is by song. The Black-capped sings a two or three-note song, and Carolina sings a four-note song. See link below for additional information on distinguishing Carolina and Black-capped Chickadees.
**Black-capped Chickadee's occur almost exclusively at the highest elevations in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and are unlikely to occur at lower elevations, in towns, or at feeders due to their preference of high elevations in Tennessee.
Habitat: Deciduous and mixed deciduous/coniferous woodlands, swamps, riparian areas, open woods, parks, suburban and urban areas.
Diet: Insects, spiders, seeds, and fruits.
Nesting and reproduction: Carolina Chickadees are monogamous and mates may remain together for more than one nesting season. In Tennessee, egg laying begins in mid-March and peaks in early April.
Clutch Size: 3 to 10 eggs, usually 5 or 6.
Incubation: Only the female incubates with the male delivering food to her. Eggs hatch in 14 to 15 days.
Fledging: Both adults feed the young, which fledge in 17 to 18 days. The young remain with the parents for another 2 weeks.
Nest: Carolina Chickadees nest in cavities that they either excavate or find. Nests are typically in dead trees or rotten branches. Within the cavity the nest is constructed of green moss and lined with either mammal hair or thin strips of plant fibers. Average nest height in Tennessee is 5 feet. They will use nest boxes. Nest Box Instructions here.
Status in Tennessee: This year round resident is common throughout the state with the exception of the highest elevations (generally above 4,000 feet) in the Appalachian Mountains. Their numbers appear to be stable or slightly increasing.
Dynamic map of Carolina Chickadee eBird observations in Tennessee
- John James Audubon "discovered" this species while in coastal South Carolina. He wrote "My drawing of the Carolina Titmouse was made not far from New Orleans late in 1820. I have named it so, partly because it occurs in Carolina, and partly because I was desirous of manifesting my gratitude towards the citizens of that State, who by their hospitality and polite attention have so much contributed to my comfort and happiness, whenever it has been my good fortune to be among them."
- In winter, Carolina Chickadees live in flocks with 2 to 8 chickadees and several other species. Chickadees defend areas against other flocks. Dominant birds in these flocks establish breeding territories that were part of the flock's winter range.
- Chickadees have a fabulous memory. They hide thousands of food items in different locations and are able to return later and remember where nearly all of them are.
- Male and female Carolina Chickadees can remain paired for several years. Probability of pair bond maintenance appears to depend on population, with nearly all pairs remaining together in subsequent years in Texas, but only half staying together in Tennessee. In attempts to obtain the best male, a female may seek out a new male on a different territory if a nesting attempt fails.
- The oldest known Carolina Chickadee in the wild was 10 years 8 months old, but the life span is usually closer to 4 to 5 years.
Obsolete English Names: chickadee, tit
Best places to see in Tennessee: Common (or present) in most wooded to open shrubby habitats in every county of the state.
For more information:
Tennessee's Woodworking for Wildlife page with nest box instructions
Distinguishing Carolina Chickadees from Black-capped Chickadees
Mostrom, A.M., R.L. Curry and B. Lohr. 2002. Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis), The Birds of North America (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
Nicholson, C. P. 1997. Atlas of Breeding Birds of Tennessee. Univ. of TN Press, Knoxville.
Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. A. A. Knopf, New York, NY.