What kinds of chickadees can you find in California?
Thanks to their bold and inquisitive personalities, chickadees are one of the most popular birds that visit backyard feeding stations. I love watching them fly in quickly to grab a seed and then immediately fly away to eat in private (or store for later)!
In California, you can find 3 different kinds of chickadees.
Below you will learn more about each species AND how to identify them by sight OR sound. Make sure to pay attention to the range maps to see which chickadees live near you!
To learn more about birds in California, check out these other guides:
Chickadees That Live in California (3)
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#1. Black-capped Chickadee
Black-capped Chickadees are one of the most beloved birds in California, and it’s easy to see why! These birds are often described as “cute,” as they are tiny, with an oversized head that features a black cap and bib.
Black-capped Chickadee Range Map
Naturally, look for Black-capped Chickadees in California in open deciduous forests, thickets, and cottonwood groves. They also adapt easily to the presence of people and are common to see in backyards and parks.
Black-capped Chickadees are easy to attract to bird feeders!
Press PLAY above to watch a Black-capped Chickadee on my feeders!
In fact, once you set up a new bird feeder, they will likely be the first birds to visit, as they are curious about anything new in their territory. The best foods to use include sunflower, peanuts, and suet. Their small size and athletic ability mean these birds can use just about any type of feeder!
Another great way to attract chickadees is to install appropriately sized nesting boxes around your yard. These birds are cavity nesters, which means they need an enclosed bird house to raise their young.
Here are some tips to consider before hanging up a chickadee nesting box:
- Make the diameter of the entrance hole 1-1/8 inches. This prevents larger birds, like House Sparrows, from getting inside and displacing your chickadees.
- Place your nest box in or at the very edge of the woods. Chickadees won’t use it if it’s in a field.
- Hang the bird house securely to a tree (don’t let it swing freely) between 5 and 15 feet high.
You can either build a nest box yourself or buy a pre-made chickadee house online.
Try identifying Black-capped Chickadees by their sounds!
These birds are extremely vocal, and you should have no problem hearing one. And luckily, their vocalizations are unique and relatively easy to identify. (Press PLAY below!)
Listen for a song that is a simple 2 or 3 note whistle, which sounds like it’s saying “fee-bee” or “hey sweetie.”
Press PLAY Above!
Black-capped Chickadees also make a distinctive “chickadee-dee-dee” call. And yes, it actually sounds like they are saying their name! Interestingly, they add more “dee” notes onto the end of the call when alarmed.
Lastly, these birds have incredible memories! They hide seeds and other foods in their territory to eat later, which are all hidden separately. Somehow, their brains can remember THOUSANDS of different hiding places!
#2. Mountain Chickadee
As the name suggests, if you want to find Mountain Chickadees in California, you will need to head to the mountains! Look for small birds with black heads and a distinctive white eyebrow, which makes them fairly easy to identify.
Mountain Chickadee Range Map
Like other chickadee species, these birds are agile and curious. They are most often seen flitting from tree to tree in coniferous forests, searching for insects, spiders, seeds, and nuts.
Do you have a house in the mountains?
If so, you should easily be able to attract Mountain Chickadees! Try setting up a feeding station filled with sunflower seeds, peanuts, and suet.
Press PLAY below to hear a Mountain Chickadee!
Listen for them singing a 3-4 note descending whistle “fee-bee-bay” or “fee-bee-fee-bee.” Some people think it sounds like they are saying “cheeseburger!”
But the most common call you will hear is “chick-a-dee-dee-dee,” which sounds very similar to a Black-capped Chickadee, even though these species tend to pay little attention to each other.
#3. Chestnut-backed Chickadee
These chickadees are truly handsome little birds. They are easily identified by their chestnut backs and sides, which match the bark of the trees they live amongst.
Chestnut-backed Chickadee Range Map
Look for Chestnut-backed Chickadees in California in dense coniferous forests. They can also be easily attracted to bird feeders. Just make sure your backyard has plenty of shrubs and trees they can use for cover!
During winter, it’s common to find these birds flocking together with many other species. You will frequently find them traveling with nuthatches, titmice, kinglets, and even other chickadee species.
Press PLAY below to hear a Chestnut-backed Chickadee!
Chestnut-backed Chickadees have a unique call when it comes to chickadees. Listen for a high, scratchy “chick-a-dee” that lasts 1 – 1.5 seconds. They also sing a series of “gargle” notes, but these noises aren’t heard often.
Which chickadees have you seen before in California?
Leave a comment below!
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The range maps below were generously shared with permission from The Birds of The World, published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I use their site OFTEN to learn new information about birds!