Chestnut-Backed Chickadees

This gallery contains 4 photos. Chestnut-Backed Chickadees are the smaller, less common cousins of the more ubiquitous Black-Capped Chickadees. We usually see one or two in the backyard, although during the past summer, a family of five (mom and dad with three successfully fledged juveniles) showed up regularly to raid the sunflower seed station. What CBCHs lack in numbers, though, they make up for with their boldness.

© WHSIM Chestnut-Backed Chickadee on the Butterfly Bush.jpg
throwing me a backwards glance on the butterfly bush (taken on July 1, 2016)
f/10, 1/800, 500mm, ISO 500

The song of a CBCH is different from the BCCH, too … more liquid and melodious, and their alert call less “chiding.” You’ll also notice that CBCHs aren’t just chestnut on their backs; their flanks are a matching chestnut color, and even their crown and neck patches are dark brown. They are more likely to be much more comfortable with my lens than BCCHs. On more than a few occasions I have had the “privilege” of having a CBCH checking me out from just a few feet away. One of these hatch year juveniles also went so far as to perch on my long lens this summer (while I was using my camera — just like a Pine Siskin) for a few moments before realizing that it wasn’t a branch! I snapped the curious chap below at the Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary; while the Black-Capped Chickadees were depleting the small mound of sunflower seeds in my hand in less than 15 seconds, this little brown number was content to just sit on a nearby branch and catch some sun.

© WHSIM Chestnut-Backed Chickadee at Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary.jpg
there was no wind to explain the “windswept hair” in this photo! (taken on Feb 2, 2016)
f/7.1, 1/800, 500mm, ISO 400

This smallest of short-tailed chickadees has a very narrow and restrictive range — they may be found almost exclusively on the Pacific coastline, from Alaska through to British Columbia down to California. Also, where the BCCHs (and Red-Breasted Nuthatches) exhibit rather frenetic “grab, dash, and dine” or “grab and cache” behaviours, the CBCHs are more inclined to sort through the sunflower seeds at a more leisurely pace before heading off to their favourite perch to enjoy or save for a rainy day–when they aren’t devouring insects, that is.

© WHSIM Chestnut-Backed Chickadee on the Apple Tree.jpg
This nonchalant adult gave me a good look at its wing feathers (taken on June 16, 2015)
f/7.1, 1/800, 500mm, ISO 400, diffused flash

Sometimes, the juveniles will just sit at the feeding station and eat. Even the adults are less concerned about the humans who wander in their midst. Interestingly, our Chestnut-Backed Chickadees have never developed a fondness for hummingbird nectar (our Black-Capped Chickadees, on the other hand, have a sweet tooth that our Anna’s find highly annoying).

© WHSIM Chestnut-Backed Chickadee on Denuded Pear Tree.jpg
Classically posed on the denuded pear tree in the backyard last winter (taken on Dec 21, 2015)
f/6.3, 1/320, 500mm, ISO 4000

Although they are year round residents here, we most often see “our” CBCHs in the fall and winter. As spring rolls around, they (as most birds do) tend to do a disappearing act (in their case, into the mountains and higher elevation habitats) to court, mate, lay a clutch of eggs, and raise their offspring. Learn more about the Chestnut-Backed Chickadee by visiting its Cornell Lab of Ornithology allaboutbirds.org profile here.

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