Information to accompany a birdhouse designed
by the Northern Prairie Research Center for the House Wren, Black-capped
Chickadee and White-breasted Nuthatch
Like the Black-capped Chickadee,
the Carolina Chickadee has a distinctive black cap and bib and white cheeks.
Unlike its counterpart, however, the Carolina Chickadee does not have the
conspicuous white area in the wing created by the white feather edges.
In summer, the two are best distinguished by locality and voice. Many people
find it difficult to distinguish the two species, but luckily there are
only a few places where their ranges overlap.
Distribution and Breeding Habitat
The Carolina Chickadee inhabits
the southeastern United States, breeding in open deciduous and mixed deciduous-coniferous
forests. It is also found in rural woodlands, cultivated areas with scattered
trees, swamps, thickets, suburban parks and residential areas.
Carolina Chickadees glean insects
on the bark of trees, feasting on a variety of invertebrates. They also
dine on seeds and berries and are frequent visitors to bird feeders.
Pair Formation and Territoriality
Carolina Chickadees are quite
similar to Black-capped Chickadees in their ecology and breeding biology.
Carolina Chickadees are monogamous, and pairs stay together for many years,
if not permanently. Pairs remain together throughout the winter on their
territory, and they defend their territory year round.
Nest Building: Although
the nesting behavior of the Carolina Chickadee is very similar to that
of the Black-capped Chickadee, Carolina Chickadees tend to rely less on
the presence of natural cavities and old woodpecker holes than their northern
relatives. Rather, they excavate their own cavities in snags, rotting tree
trunks and limbs for nesting purposes.
The male and female work together
to excavate the nest cavity, which takes around two weeks, but only the
female builds the nest. The nest has a moss base and a cup made of grass,
plant down, and feathers. The female lines the nest with finer materials
such as fine grass, fur, and hair.
Female Carolina Chickadees lay
one egg per day. The average clutch size is six eggs, but anywhere from
five to eight eggs can be present. These smooth, non-glossy eggs are white
with reddish brown spots concentrated at the larger end, and they are indistinguishable
from Black-capped Chickadee eggs. During the egg-laying phase, the female
covers the incomplete clutch with nest material whenever she leaves the
The incubation period is 11
to 14 days and begins the day the next-to-last, or penultimate, egg is
laid. The female incubates the eggs, but during this period, the male dutifully
brings her food. The female is a tight sitter, that is, she does not flush
readily from the nest when disturbed. If forced off the nest, she often
makes a hissing sound as she leaves.
After the eggs hatch, the female
broods the new nestlings. The male continues to feed her, along with the
nestlings, during this time. After a few days, the male and female both
tend the young equally. Nestlings fledge when they are 13 to 17 days old
but remain dependent upon the parents for food and protection. After two
to four weeks, they attain complete independence.
Although the number is uncertain,
most pairs probably raise one brood each breeding season. Pairs will produce
a replacement brood if a nesting attempt fail.
Winter Movement and Dispersal
The Carolina Chickadee is a
winter resident. Pairs stay together on their territories over the winter.
They forage in mixed-species flocks with nuthatches, titmice, and woodpeckers.
Little information is known
about juvenile dispersal in this species.
Information courtesy of:
which suggests Carolina Chickadee
boxes be placed 5-15 feet high in “forests, woodlots, and yards with mature
hardwood trees, forest edges, meadows; area should receive 40-60% sunlight;
hole should face away from prevailing wind; 1" shaving can be placed in
box” because the Chickadees like to think that they’re cleaning out their
own nests in tree trunks. After the birdhouse is used, it must be cleaned
out to prevent infestation by insects. The protruding nail on the front
of the box may be pulled out, allowing the side of the house to swing out,
enabling cleaning. Two nails, for hanging the house, are inside it.
Birdhouse design courtesy of:
which says that for the White-breasted
Nuthatch, the entrance hole must be 1 and 1/4” in diameter.
Compiled by John Derrick