IUCN threat status:

Least Concern (LC)

Comprehensive Description

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Comprehensive Description

The Chestnut-backed chickadee or Poecile rufescens is a non-migratory, perching bird in the Paridae family.  It is native to the coastal rainforests of the Pacific Northwest and western Canada, with its habitat extending to southern Alaska at the most northern point and southwestern California at its most southern. Urban and rural dwelling chickadees are common where trees and bushes are abundant (All About Birds 2017).

P. rufescens is the smallest chickadee, at 12 cm in length and weighing between 5.5 - 11.3 g (All About Birds 2017). While physically similar in size and color to the Black-capped chickadee, it is differentiated by the dark brown feathers on its head and the bright chestnut on its back, shoulders, and flanks that are its namesake (Audubon 2017). The cheek and nape, as well as the as edges of the wing coverts, are white, while off-white feathers cover the breast and belly. The tail and the greater part of the wings are grey.

P. rufescens has no true song, but communicates in chirps that vary in speed. Food (berries and conifer seeds) is obtained from the surfaces of branches and twigs as they hop, usually working their way up from the bottom of a tree to the top. Additional foraging methods include probing into the crevices of trees and launching out from a perch to catch flying prey such as insects and spiders. New nests are excavated in soft, rotting wood, but they also use abandoned woodpecker nests and man-made bird houses. The female uses moss, bark, lichen, found fibers and feathers to form the foundation of the nest and then finishes it with fur from animals like deer and coyotes. The average clutch size is 6 eggs, laid between April and May with infrequent broods in June and July. The eggs are usually white but some do have a reddish-brown tint at the larger end (Burke Museum 2017). When adults leave the nest to forage, the eggs are hidden under a thin layer of fur to protect them from predators. It is likely that both parents tend to the young, but for what amount of time is still unknown.

P. rufescens is active and very social. Where populations overlap, they live alongside other chickadees and travel in mixed flocks during the winter. They exhibit territorial behavior during the mating season in April and May (Audubon 2017). The population is currently stable and common in the dense, humid forests of its range, with some recent habitat expansion into drier areas. Nesting in rotting and dead cavities leaves chestnut-backed chickadees vulnerable to loss of habitat through forest management practices, clear-cutting and, to a lesser extent, human expansion (All About Birds 2017). 


Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY 3.0)

© Authors: Monet Harris and Jack Taylor; Editor: Dr. Gordon Miller; Seattle University EVST 2100 - Natural History: Theory and Practice. Spring 2017

Supplier: seattleu_natural_history


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