This guide will help you identify all the species of Chickadees that can be spotted in Illinois with photo IDs and descriptions, audio recordings of their songs, and fun facts, plus more.
Chickadees are busy little songbirds that flit around looking for insects, and they will readily come to backyard feeders. They are part of the Poecile family of birds, and there are only seven species of Chickadee, all of which live in North America.
There are three species of chickadees that can be spotted in Illinois. Black-capped Chickadees are very common, and Carolina Chickadees can also be spotted, but Boreal Chickadees are rare here.
Chickadees do not migrate, but they may travel to lower ground in winter. To survive the cold winter months, studies have shown that Chickadees cache food, roost in cavities, and go into a state of regulated nocturnal hypothermia to save energy.
Chickadees have an insatiable appetite due to their high body temperature and need to consume their own body weight in food each day!
Chickadees do not usually live very long, in fact, only about two or three years, and they may only live for one year as an adult and only have one breeding season. However, here have been chickadees recorded as living for twelve years.
Male and female chickadees look the same, so it can be difficult to tell them apart, except only males sing the lod ‘Fee Bee’ song.
Also, Black-capped Chickadees and Carolina Chickadees look very similar, but the Black-capped has more white in the wing and has a 2-note song rather than the 4-note song of the Carolina.
Chickadees eat insects and seeds and they will often come to backyard feeders for seeds or suet. Find out the other types of backyard birds that regularly visit Illinois and print a free ID chart.
This guide will help you identify the types of Chickadees spotted in Illinois according to avibase and uses data collected from bird watchers on ebird to give real information about when these birds can be spotted.
3 Types Of Chickadee In Illinois:
1. Black-capped Chickadee
Black-capped Chickadees are residents of Illinois all year, but they are spotted mainly in the north of the state. They are recorded in 27% of summer checklists and 33% of winter checklists submitted by bird watchers for the state.
Black-capped Chickadees are cute birds with big round heads and tiny bodies. These birds will happily feed at backyard feeders and investigate everything, including you!
They have black caps, beaks, and throat, with white cheeks, and are gray on the back, wings, and tail. Their bellies are lighter. They look very similar to Carolina Chickadees.
- Poecile atricapillus
- Length: 4.7-5.9 in (12-15 cm)
- Weight: 0.3-0.5 oz (9-14 g)
- Wingspan: 6.3-8.3 in (16-21 cm)
Black-capped Chickadees do not migrate and can be spotted in the northern half of the US and Canada.
You can find Black-capped Chickadees in forests, open woods, and parks. They eat seeds, berries and insects, spiders, and suet.
Black-capped Chickadee Call/Song:
Nests of Black-capped Chickadees are usually in old woodpecker nests, but they may make their own cavity in rotten branches. Both the male and female will make the nest, and then the female lines it with moss and then other softer material such as fur.
They can lay a large clutch of up to thirteen eggs, which take around two weeks to hatch and a further two weeks for the young to leave the nest.
Attract Black-capped Chickadees to your backyard with suet, sunflower seeds, and peanuts or peanut butter. They will even feed from your hand and are often one of the first birds to discover new feeders. They will also use nest boxes, especially if you fill them with wood shavings.
Fun fact: Black-capped Chickadees’ brains are amazing in that each year they let old brain neurons die to lose old information they do not need and replace it with new neurons and information.
2. Carolina Chickadee
Carolina Chickadees are spotted all year in Illinois, mainly in the south of the state. They appear in 2% of summer checklists and 4% of winter checklists.
Carolina Chickadees are tiny birds with large heads, black caps and throats, white cheeks and bellies, and soft gray backs, wings, and tails.
They look very similar to the Black-capped Chickadee, and they interbreed where their range overlaps, but their range does not overlap in many places. Also, Black-capped Chickadees have more white in their wings than Carolina Chickadees.
- Poecile carolinensis
- Length: 3.9-4.7 in (10-12 cm)
- Weight: 0.3-0.4 oz (8-12 g)
- Wingspan: 5.9-7.9 in (15-20 cm)
Carolina Chickadees live in eastern and southeastern US states all year.
You can find Carolina Chickadees in forested areas, parks, and backyards. In summer, they mainly eat insects and spiders, but in winter, about half of their diet is plant material.
Carolina Chickadee Song:
Nests of Carolina Chickadees are in holes they have made themselves or those originally made by other species or natural cavities. They line the hole with moss and then softer material such as hair. They lay up to ten eggs which take about two weeks to hatch and a further two to three weeks for the young to leave the nest.
Attract Carolina Chickadees to your backyard feeders with black oil sunflower seeds, nyjer seeds, suet feeders, or peanuts. They will feed on most types of feeders, including tube feeders, suet cages, or platform feeders. They will also nest in nest boxes or nest tubes.
3. Boreal Chickadee
Boreal Chickadees are extremely rare birds to see in Illinois, but they have been accepted by the Illinois Ornithological Records Committee under their review list.
Boreal Chickadees are tiny grayish-brown songbirds with a dark brown cap, small black bib, cinnamon sides, and white underneath and on the cheeks.
- Poecile hudsonicus
- Length: 4.9-5.5 in (12.5-14 cm)
- Weight: 0.3-0.4 oz (7-12.4 g)
Boreal Chickadees live in Canada and Alaska and may appear in northern US states.
You can find Boreal Chickadees mostly in coniferous forests, often near water, but also can be found in deciduous or mixed forests. They feed on seeds and insects from the upper areas of the canopy and will readily visit feeders.
Nests of Boreal Chickadees are usually in dead trees, and the hole is made by the female. Moss and bark are used to line the cavity, and then softer material such as hair and feathers is added. They lay up to nine eggs, which take just over two weeks to hatch.
Attract Boreal Chickadees to your backyard with Black oil sunflower seeds, nyjer seeds, suet, peanuts, and mealworms on most types of feeders. Also, put up a nesting box to attract a mating pair.
Fun Fact: Boreal Chickadees will store seeds and insects for the long and harsh winter.
Attract Chickadees To Your Backyard
Chickadees are a delight to watch with their constant hurrying to get enough food to eat. So if you want to watch more of these cute little birds, then you need to attract them to your yard.
- Supply feeders with black oil sunflower seeds, nyjer seeds, suet, or peanuts
- They will feed on most types of feeders, including tube feeders, suet cages, or platform feeders
- Provide a water source such as a birdbath, preferably with running water
- Plant berry-producing trees and shrubs that attract insects
- Don’t use pesticides or herbicides as Chickadees eat insects
- Provide shelter with trees and shrubs
- Provide a nest box with a small hole of 1 1/8 inch and raise 5 – 15 feet above ground
- Keep cats indoors
- Be patient as it can take a while for birds to find your yard and feeders
Chickadee Songs and Calls
Chickadees are famous for the namesake chick a dee call, but this call is, in fact, a mild alarm call or contact call, and their song is actually a ‘fee bee’ sound.
- It is produced by males
- The first note is higher pitched than the second
- Males move away from other males when they sing
2. Faint Fee-bee
- Produced by both males and females
- Females use this to call the male to feed her when she is incubating
- Used between parents and young
3. Chick-a-dee call
- Mild alarm call
- Contact calls in flocks
- Coordinate movements in flocks
- Series of two to nine short notes
- Used when birds get too close in flocks or at feeders
- It is a warning call before the chickadee may attack another to make them move further away
5. Begging Call
- Young chickadees make bee calls to get their parents to feed them
5. High Seet Call
Alarm Call when predators are around
How Frequently Chickadees are Spotted in Illinois in Summer and Winter
Checklists are a great resource to find out which birds are commonly spotted in your state. These lists show which chickadees are most frequently recorded on checklists on ebird in summer and winter in Illinois.
Chickadees in Illinois in Summer:
Black-capped Chickadee 27.6%
Carolina Chickadee 2.8%
Chickadees in Illinois in Winter:
Black-capped Chickadee 33.8%
Carolina Chickadee 4.5%