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Identifying The Six North American Chickadees

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There are six species of chickadees regularly seen in North America north of Mexico. They all have dark caps and bibs and white cheeks. In general, they are dark on the back, lighter underneath, and all about the same shape and size. So how can you tell them apart? Here are some clues that will help you identify the ones you see.

Each of our chickadees has a different range, so check which ones live in your area. Here is a summary:

triangle picture Black-capped Chickadee: Northern states and southern Canada from coast to coast.
triangle picture Carolina Chickadee: Mostly the southeastern and south-central states.
triangle picture Mountain Chickadee: Throughout the mountains of the West.
triangle picture Chestnut-backed Chickadee: Mostly the West Coast from central California to southern Alaska.
triangle picture Boreal Chickadee: Mostly in Canada from coast to coast and in Alaska.
triangle picture Mexican Chickadee: Just over the border in very limited areas of the Southwest.

Field Clues
Four of the six species have distinctive clues. The differences between the Carolina and Black-capped Chickadees are more subtle; check range and song to help you distinguish them.

triangle picture Mountain Chickadee: Our only chickadee with a thin white line over the eye.
triangle picture Chestnut-backed Chickadee: Our only chickadee with a rich reddish-brown back.
triangle picture Boreal Chickadee: Our only chickadee with a brown cap.
triangle picture Mexican Chickadee: Our only chickadee with a long bib and gray flanks.
triangle picture Black-capped Chickadee: Very similar to Carolina Chickadee but has white edging to its greater wing coverts (when fresh in fall and winter) and a song of two whistled notes, the first higher than the second.
triangle picture Carolina Chickadee: Very similar to the Black-capped Chickadee but has gray greater wing coverts and a song of four whistled notes, the first and third higher than the others.

For more photos and information on chickadees refer to Stokes Field Guide to Birds.

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