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Black-capped Chickadee
Poecile atricapillus

The Black-capped Chickadee in Tennessee is only found at high elevations of the southern Blue Ridge Mountains. It is a year round resident there and throughout its large range, which extends across Alaska and Canada to the northern half of the lower 48 states. The only reliable breeding records for this species in the state are from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, generally above 4,000 feet. Black-capped and Carolina Chickadees are extremely similar in appearance, and are best distinguished by song, although identification on some overlap zones is difficult or impossible without experience.

Description: This very small songbird has a black cap and bib, white cheeks, a soft gray back, wings, and tail, and is whitish below with buffy sides. The wing feathers are edged with white.
Length: 5.25"
0.39 oz

Voice: Song is a simple, pure 2 or 3-note whistled fee-bee; the call is the familiar chickadee-dee-dee, similar but more slow and husky sounding compared with the Carolina Chickadee. The number of dee notes increase when alarmed.

Similar Species:

  • Carolina Chickadee is nearly identical in appearance. The song of the Carolina Chickadee is a four-note call fee-bee fee-bay with the first notes higher pitched than the second. This compares with the Black-caps two-note of identical pitch and rhythm. Carolina Chickadee also has less white wing-feather edging.

Habitat: In Tennessee, found in deciduous and mixed forests generally above 4,000 feet elevation.

Diet: Insects, spiders, seeds, and suet.

Nesting and reproduction: Pairs form late in winter before the winter foraging flocks breaks up, and the pairs defend territories within the range of the winter flock.

Clutch Size: Usually 6 to 8 eggs.

Incubation: The female incubates the eggs for 12 to 13 days.

Fledging: Both adults feed the nestlings, which leave the nest in 12 to16 days. The young will stay with the adults for another 2 to 4 weeks. Second broods are occasionally raised.

Nest: Both male and female chickadees excavate a natural cavity, use an abandoned Downy Woodpecker cavity, or use a nest box. Nests can be from ground level to more than 65 feet high, but are usually between 5 and 23 feet.

Status in Tennessee: A locally fairly common permanent resident.

Dynamic map of Black-capped Chickadee eBird observations in Tennessee

Fun Facts:

  • This species is a year round resident throughout its range and northern populations must, therefore, withstand extremely cold temperatures and short days. As adaptations to such extreme conditions, the Black-capped Chickadee can lower its body temperature at night to save energy. It also has an exceptional ability to store food and, most importantly, find it when needed later! Chickadees can cache food in hundreds of different sites, and recall those locations and retrieve food up to 28 days later.
  • Migrating songbirds often join mixed-species foraging flocks. Chickadees often form the core of these flock, so watching and listening for chickadee calls during spring and fall can often alert birders to the presence of interesting migrants.
  • The oldest known wild chickadee lived to be 12 years and 5 months old.

Best places to see in Tennessee: The only reliable place to see a Black-capped Chickadee in Tennessee is above 4,000 feet in the Great Smoky Mountains, especially the trail Newfound Gap. they are also sometimes seen along the Alum Cave trail, but Carolina's regularly occur at that elevation.

For more information:


Robinson J. C. 1990. An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Tennessee. Univ. of TN Press, Knoxville, TN.

Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. A. A. Knopf, New York, NY.

Smith, Susan M. 1993. Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus), The Birds of North America. No. 039 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.