About The Chestnut-backed Chickadee

The chestnut-backed chickadee, Poecile rufescens, are small energetic birds with a chestnut-brown back, rump, and flanks, hence its name. Chestnut-backed chickadees have white cheeks, a black throat, and gray wings and tails. Their chest and bellies are all white. They have short bills and their average length is 4.25 inches. Male, female and juvenile chestnut-backed chickadees all share the same plumage.

The Chestnut-backed Chickadee Nesting Preference

Chestnut-backed chickadees build their nests on woodpecker holes or excavate their own cavities in soft rotten wood. They are also known to nest in man-made nest boxes. The nests are built using moss, lichen, fine grass, feathers, and plant fiber, and are lined using soft hair and fur. The nests are usually placed low and do not exceed 10 feet above ground. The female chickadee lays 5 to 7 eggs usually white eggs. Some eggs though white, are speckled. Both male and female chickadees tend to their young while nesting.

Building a Birdhouse For The Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Chestnut-backed chickadees use nest boxes when they cannot find a more suitable place to build their nest. Since they are year round residents (non-migratory) they usually make use of man-made nest boxes during winter to serve as their winter roost. The recommended dimensions for a chestnut-backed chickadee birdhouse are: 4” x 4” (floor), 9” (distance from the floor to the ceiling), 1¼ “ (entrance hole diameter), 7” (distance from floor to the top of the entrance hole). Since chestnut-backed chickadees normally use excavated cavities a food wood chips littered on the birdhouse floor would be appropriate. Chickadee nest boxes should be mounted at chest level.

The Chestnut-backed Chickadee Mating Habits

Little is known about the mating habits of chestnut-backed chickadees. So far there is no information available regarding their mating behavior or pattern for pair formation. What is known is that chestnut-backed chickadees become territorial during breeding season but otherwise freely join mixed-species flocks, especially in winter. Breeding season starts around mid-March or early April.

The Chestnut-backed Chickadee Feeding Preferences

Chestnut-back chickadees get their food by foraging. They hop along tree branches and pick the surfaces and probe crevices in order to find food. Chestnut-backed chickadees are often seen hanging upside down from tree branches in order to get to the food found on the branches’ underside. They like to forage in conifers and even eat conifer seeds. The main diet of chestnut-backed chickadees is composed mainly of insects and spiders. They also like to eat berries and conifers, as mentioned earlier. Chestnut-backed chickadees also seem to like the suet and birdseed found in bird feeders. They store food in the fall, which the retrieve and use during winter.

Interesting Chestnut-backed Chickadee Facts

  • Although chestnut-backed chickadees are non-migratory they sometimes fly short distances in winter when their food supply gets low. They usually move to lower elevations in the same area when winter starts and move back up to higher elevations in late summer.
  • 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.