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The Ivory Bill·Birds·Cavity Makers

Mountain Chickadee, Poecile gambeli

Mountain chickadee hanging from a coniferous tree branch

Mountain Chickadees are small passerine birds that breed in coniferous and mixed forests in western North America, particularly in mountainous regions, from April to July. They are commonly found in montane and subalpine forests, which are characterized by dense stands of pine, fir, and spruce trees where insects and seeds are abundant during the breeding season.

They forage in trees, shrubs, and on the ground for caterpillars, spiders, aphids, beetles, and seeds from coniferous trees. They may also feed on berries and small fruits.

Mountain Chickadees have a distinctive foraging behavior that includes hanging upside down to access food, gleaning insects from foliage, and storing seeds for later consumption. Their sharp vision and agile movements enable them to exploit a wide range of food sources.

Courtship involves a series of vocalizations and displays. Males sing to attract females and perform a courtship dance that includes fluttering wings and presenting food to the female. Pair bonding is reinforced through mutual preening and feeding.

Both males and females excavate or enlarge natural cavities in dead or decaying trees, often in pine or fir trees. These cavities are typically located between 1 to 6 meters above the ground. They prefer forested areas with a mix of mature and younger trees. The nest is lined with moss, animal hair, and plant fibers, usually in early spring.

They will also nest in bird houses. Bird houses should have an entrance hole of about 3 cm in diameter and should be mounted on trees or posts at a height of 1.5 to 3 meters in wooded habitats, parks, or suburban areas. See Mountain Chickadee Birdhouse Pans.

Egg laying occurs in late spring, with the female laying 5 to 10 white eggs with reddish-brown spots. Incubation lasts about 12 to 13 days and is primarily done by the female. Upon hatching, both parents feed the chicks a diet of insects and small seeds.

Chicks learn to forage under the guidance of adults, who demonstrate how to find and extract food. As they grow, chicks practice pecking and gleaning techniques but remain vulnerable to predators and adverse weather conditions.

Chick fledging occurs about 16 to 18 days after hatching. Continued adult guidance is essential as fledglings refine their foraging skills. Their diet gradually expands to include a wider variety of insects and seeds.

Mountain Chickadees are generally non-migratory, though some populations may move to lower elevations in harsh winters. They tend to remain within their breeding range year-round.