A rather curious and acrobatic species (2), the black-capped chickadee can often be seen flying across roads and open areas with a distinctive undulating flight powered by rapid wing beats (2) (4).
The black-capped chickadee is a monogamous species (3) (4) (5), forming a lifelong pair-bond (3) (5). The courtship display involves soft calls, wing-shivering and the male feeding the female (3), and once the bond has formed, the pair establishes and defends a territory (5). The breeding season of the black-capped chickadee begins in late March and continues through to early July (3), with each pair usually only producing one brood (2) (3) unless the first one is lost (4). This species typically nests in a cavity excavated by both the male and female (2) (4) (5), although abandoned woodpecker holes and nest boxes are also used (2) (5). Only the female black-capped chickadee builds the nest (3) (4), which is cup-shaped (2) and formed using a variety of materials including moss, conifer needles, grass, bark strips, feathers and animal fur (2) (3) (4).
The black-capped chickadee typically lays a clutch of between 6 and 8 eggs (3), although as few as 1 and as many as 13 have been recorded (2). The timing of egg laying differs depending on location, with individuals in Illinois generally laying between mid-April and the beginning of June, and those from Massachusetts laying between May and July (4). Black-capped chickadee eggs are white and marked with fine reddish-brown spots (2) (4). The female incubates the eggs (3) (4) for a period of 11 to 14 days (3), during which time the male provides her with food (3) (4). The chicks are fed by both adult birds (3), and leave the nest at between 12 and 16 days old (2) (3) (4). Once they have left the nest, young black-capped chickadees remain with the adults for a further three or four weeks, and are capable of breeding in their first year (3) (4). The oldest recorded black-capped chickadee was 12 years and 5 months old (2) (3).
The black-capped chickadee is an omnivorous species (5), feeding on a variety of invertebrates such as small insects, spiders, snails, slugs and centipedes (3) (5), as well as vegetable matter including seeds, berries (2) (3) (4) (5) and even sugar maple (Acer saccharum) sap (3). The proportion of animal to vegetable matter taken by this species varies depending on the season. In the winter, the black-capped chickadee’s diet is composed of 50 percent invertebrates and 50 percent vegetable matter, whereas during the breeding season the amount of animal matter consumed increases to around 80 or 90 percent (2) (4).
The black-capped chickadee forages for food in thickets and the low branches of trees (3) (7), catching prey items by hovering, probing, hawking or gleaning (3) (4). Interestingly, this species stores seeds and other food items (2) (3) in various caches for up to a month (3), and rarely eats food where it finds it (4). The black-capped chickadee tends to pick one seed up at a time, and carry it off to another location where the bird holds the seed with its feet and hammers it open using its bill (5).
The black-capped chickadee is a largely resident species (2) (3), although it is known to move southwards in years when the seed crop is poor or fails (3). At such times, flocks can be highly visible during the daytime (3), and in the winter the black-capped chickadee frequently forms the basis of larger, mixed-species flocks (2) (3) (4) with nuthatches, woodpeckers, warblers and other birds (2) (4).