Welcoming the Black-capped Chickadee to Your Garden

How to attract these cute, insect-eating chickadees

Credit: Flickr / Martin Cathrae

With a pleasant song, charming disposition and an enormous appetite for insects, the black-capped chickadee is a great bird to have around.


During the summer months, black-capped chickadees help keep the insect population under control as 90 per cent of their diet is bugs. In the early autumn they begin to visit backyard feeders with more regularity and by wintertime they rely heavily on free handouts.

Overall, the black-capped chickadee is a friendly, cheery and charming addition to your backyard.

The black-capped chickadee lives in the same area year-round and forms flocks in the fall and winter. It is highly likely that the same chickadees are visiting your feeder daily—and benefit greatly from the food.

Many bird watchers have reported being able to form a trust with the black-capped chickadee and get it to eat seed directly from their hand.

How to attract the black-capped chickadee to your yard


Wild chickadees collect nuts, seeds and berries in the fall and winter and will visit your feeder daily for sunflower seeds, peanuts and suet. They keep caches of food and will often hide meals in 100 or more locations. A favourite of the black-capped chickadee seems to be black oil sunflower seeds in the shell (and unsalted, of course).

Make sure your feeder is available and full year-round but particularly in the late summer and early autumn. Once the chickadees—and other small backyard birds—discover they can rely on you, they will visit daily.

(Image: Flickr / Matt Elsberry)

A wide variety of plants will attract a wide variety of insects for the black-capped chickadee to feed on in the summertime. In the winter, they will also feed on berries, so planting a bush with edible berries would be a good idea.

Most small birds appreciate dense trees where they can easily hide from predators, flitting in and out quickly and deftly. The black-capped chickadee commonly roosts in spruce, pine, and fir trees. They like heavy evergreens and appreciate anything with small holes in which they can hide. The thick tree branches provide shelter from wind, rain and snow during the colder months. 

Good reasons to keep the chickadee around


Most bushtits (the bird family that chickadees are a part of) eat almost all invertebrates and help control the insect population in your garden. From April to August they rely heavily on insects as a source of food. Avoid using pesticides by simply inviting chickadees to do your dirty work for you. They will eat insect eggs, larvae, spiders, weevils, lice, sawflies, and other small pests and their pupae.

The black-capped chickadee is also a happy and attractive bird. Its small, rounded head and round white cheeks make it a “cute” bird. Their songs are delicate and cheerful — often singing out the ‘chick-a-dee-dee-dee’ for which they were named.

If comfortable with a human presence, chickadees are more than willing to pick up a treat directly from your hand. (Image: Flickr / Steve Burt)

Where the black-capped chickadee calls home


The black-capped chickadee is one of a number of types of chickadees that live in North America’s mild climates. They can be found throughout Canada from Newfoundland to BC (save for the Islands). The black-capped chickadee lives as far northwards as southern Yukon and the Northwest Territories and into the USA as far as northern California across to new Jersey.

The black-capped chickadee prefers tree-covered areas and will gravitate towards woods and orchards. They are also happy in backyard hedges and birdhouses that can protect them from the elements. They often roost in the same places night after night if they can find a safe and comfortable hole.

Shelled sunflower seeds are—wings-down—the favourite among chickadees. (Image: Flickr / Rob Farrell)

Appearance of the black-capped chickadee


The Black-Capped Chickadee is of the bushtit family and is a small bird, measuring 12-15 cm from tip of the bill to end of the tail. They have a greenish-grey body with a white breast and tan-brown sides. Sporting a long grey tail with whisps of white, the chickadee is actually most recognizable by its face.

The black-capped chickadee gets its name from its black head which covers most of it’s head leaving white cheeks and a small black triangle on the throat. It has bright small eyes and a tiny cone-shaped bill.

The black-capped chickadee lives in a broad range of climates and habitats and therefore size and plumage will differ slightly depending on region.

Other types of chickadees


There are several other types of chickadees that the black-capped chickadeecan be mistaken for:

  • The mountain chickadee, which, in Canada, lives only in the mountains of B.C. and Alberta, is only distinguishable by a white line over it’s eye.
  • The chestnut-backed chickadee is commonly found in coastal forests and southern B.C. and has a more brown-coloured body and head.
  • The gray-headed chickadee is common in Asia and Europe but only found in North America in northwest Yukon and eastern Alaska.
  • The boreal chickadee lives specifically in the belt of coniferous forest that extends across the country and has a more subdued plumage with brown head and sides and a grey body.

Once a flock of chickadees know they can rely on your birdfeeder, they will visit daily in the colder months. (Image: Flickr / Terren in Virginia)

Song and sounds of the chickadee


The chickadee is most vocal in February and March during courtship. However during the winter they also form flocks and communicate dangers and food discoveries to the rest of the flock or their partner.

The most well known call, and the bird’s namesake, is ‘chick-a-dee-dee-dee’. Studies show that the pitch, frequency and arrangement of the ‘dees’ can indicate everything from alarms and warnings to food alerts. More than a dozen vocalization patterns have been classified.

The actual song of the black-capped chickadee is a simple ‘bee-bay’ with the second note slightly lower than the first.

Monica Miller is a writer, editor and designer living in Vancouver. She graduated from Langara College’s Publishing Program and SFU’s Writing & Publishing Program.