Black-capped Chickadee

First visit:
18 Apr 2020
Last seen:
19 May 2020
The black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) is a small, nonmigratory, North American songbird that lives in deciduous and mixed forests. It is a passerine bird in the tit family Paridae. It is the state bird of both Maine and Massachusetts in the United States, and the provincial bird of New Brunswick in Canada. It is well known for its capability to lower its body temperature during cold winter nights as well as its good spatial memory to relocate the caches where it stores food, and its boldness near humans (sometimes feeding from the hand). Although range can generally be used to separate them, the black-capped chickadee is very similar in appearance to the Carolina chickadee. The black-capped is larger on average but this cannot be used reliably for identification. The most obvious difference between the two is in the wing feathers. In the black-capped chickadee, the wing feathers have white edges that are larger and more conspicuous than those of the Carolina chickadee. The latter is often mistaken for black-capped chickadees with feather dystrophy which sometimes affects the appearance of the primary feathers making them look slimmer, a phenomenon caused by illnesses such as fatty liver disease in malnourished birds. Overall, the Carolina appears slightly paler colored whereas the flanks of the black-capped can appear to have a trace of off-yellow or rusty coloration. Also, the black-capped generally has a more "ragged" looking black bib, whereas the bib of the Carolina has a more smooth-edged look. These subtle features are often even more vague in populations around where the black-capped and Carolina overlap in range (possibly the result of hybrids) and the two cannot always be distinguished as two species. The two species were formerly thought to be easily distinguished by call, but they often learn each other's vocalizations where their ranges overlap (their point of overlap is a narrow band that runs along the east-central United States, with the black-capped chickadee to the north). A bird located near the zone of overlap that sings both songs, or sings "odd-sounding" songs, cannot be positively identified solely by voice in the field.

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4 months ago