Mountain Chickadees are a ubiquitous species in the western evergreen forests of North America. Their bodies are tiny with what appears to be a disportionately large head. They have a small black bill, rounded wings and a narrow tail. By far, their most prominent physical feature is the coloring of their heads, which includes a black eye-stripe, throat patch and band along the top and down the neck on a white background.
Chickadees will often flock with other small birds, moving quickly along the understory or suspending themselves upside-down from branches as they search for insects. Spiders, beetles, caterpillars and aphids are all preferred prey, although the bird is also an efficient gatherer of nuts and seeds. Chickadees will often maintain several hidden stashes of food which they’ll use during the winter months when it becomes more difficult to locate insects. The birds insect-rich diet plays a unique role in helping to preserve the forests. If some trees become infested with bark beetles or needle miners, Chickadees are a naturally-occurring exterminator, often keeping the outbreak for spreading.
Mountain Chickadees enjoy a wide range, from southern Alaska to northern California, and from the Pacific Coast to the Rocky Mountain states. The bird generally does not migrate over long distances, although they may adjust their range by elevation as the weather grows colder. They are most observed flitting among conifers in large numbers.
Photo credit: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.