Chestnut-backed Chickadee

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Common Name: Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Scientific Name: Poecile rufescens

Size: 4.5-4.9 inches (11.5-12.5 cm)

Habitat: North America; found in the Pacific Northwest of the United States and western Canada, from southern Alaska to southwestern California. It is a permanent resident within its range, with some seasonal movements as feeding flocks move short distances in search of food. They usually move to lower elevations in the same area upon onset of winter and move back up to higher elevations in late summer. Its habitat is low elevation coniferous and mixed coniferous/deciduous forests.

Status: Least Concern. Global Population: 6,900,000 mature adults. The population is estimated to be increasing following recorded increases in recent years as it adjusts favorably to urbanized areas. Protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty of 1918 in the United States.

Diet: Seed and insects.

Breeding: Male and female look alike. It is a cavity-nester, usually utilizing an abandoned woodpecker hole, but sometimes excavating on its own. Chestnut-backed chickadees use lots of fur and hair to make their nests. Their nests are actually 50% fur and hair. The most common hair they use comes from deer, rabbits, and coyotes. The adult chickadees also make a layer of fur about a centimeter thick which is used to cover the eggs on the nest whenever they leave the nest. It lays 5-8 (sometimes 9) eggs per clutch.

Cool Facts: There are three subspecies, with the flanks being grayer and less rufous further south (del Hoyo et al. 2007):

  • Poecile rufescens rufescens (Townsend, 1837). Alaska south to northwest California. Broad rufous band on flanks.
  • Poecile rufescens neglectus (Ridgway, 1879). Coastal central California (Marin County). Narrow rufous band on flanks.
  • Poecile rufescens barlowi (Grinnell, 1900). Coastal southwestern California (south of San Francisco Bay). Almost no rufous color on flanks.

In the San Francisco Bay Area this bird has readily adapted to suburban settings, prompting a range expansion.

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