Birds of Seabrook Island



  Carolina Chickadee



Species Acct.
NW Warblers


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  Order Passeriformes
   Suborder Passeres - Oscines (Song Birds)
      Parvorder Passerida (Superfamily Sylvioidea)
         Family Paridae - Penduline-Tits, Tits, Chickadees
            Subfamily Parinae - Titmice, Chickadees
  Passerines are generally smaller than non-passerines. They have a perching foot with three toes directed forward and the one backward with locking tendons to facilitate perching when their tendons are flexed. All passerines scratch by bringing the foot over the wing. Incubation ranges from 11 -21 days. Young hatch blind with little or no down and spend 10-15 days or so in the nest - development is rapid and parents provide care beyond fledging.
Oscines are passerines with complex syringeal musculature used to produce varied vocalizations. 
Sylvioidea includes nuthatches, creepers, wrens, tits, kinglets, and Old World Warblers.
Tits are small passerines with short, conical bills and rounded wings. The upper bill is kinetic. They are mainly arboreal and forage actively on limbs and twigs. They have specialized leg muscles facilitating their ability to hang upside down when feeding. They often form social groups in winter. They may cache reserves of food. They nest and roost (often communally) in holes. They readily use feeders. Their song is helpful in their identification.
Parus vs Poecile
  Carolina Chickadee, Poecile carolinensis
    Cornell     USGS     Wiki     EoL
        YEAR ROUND - Common, breeds / Common
   The Carolina Chickadee's body is gray (lighter on the belly) and the head has a black bib on the throat and a black cap - the two structures frame a characteristic white nape and cheek.
Carolina Chickadee
Carolina Chickadee. Clemson.
Note the relatively short tail and
cheeks that become grayer near the neck
  Parus vs. Poecile
   Sibley and Monroe (1992) use Parus as the generic name for our chickadees. The AOU Chekclist changed to Poecile for the genus in 1997. It was first used by Kaup in 1829. Splitting the genus is further supported by mtDNA cytochrome b sequence data (Gill, F. B., B. Slikas, and F. H. Sheldon. 2005. Phylogeny of Titmice (Paridae): II. Species relationships based on sequences of the mitochondrial cytochrome-B gene. Auk 122: 121-143), (Available on-line through BioOne - Use their search to retrieve)
   We should probably get used to this name change.
  RANGE: Carolina Chickadees breed in the southeast - from Pennsylvania - New Jersey, west (but not in the mountains) through central Ohio and Missouri to the Oklahoma panhandle, then south to the Texas coast and east along the Gulf to central Florida, then back north up the east coast. They are resident in this range.
   The more northern chickadee, the Black-capped Chickadee, Poecile atricapilla, may overlap the Carolina in the Appalachian edges and along its the southern edge of its range (but it extends west to Alaska and the Pacific south through Oregon and the Rockies. The Black-capped is longer-tailed with a larger head than the Carolina but their field marks are essentially identical. The two species are largely allopatric so you won't often see both together.
   Fear not, you can tell the two apart - listen for their song. The Black-capped sings "oh dear" or "feebee", a two part whistle with the second note lower. In contrast, the Carolina sings a 3-5 note song on different pitches. It is higher pitched than the black-capped's call and notes are clearly separated. The first note is usually a mid-tone, the second lower, and the third higher than the first.
  BREEDING: Monogamous. The Carolina Chickadee's female partner builds a nest in a natural or old woodpecker cavity. Both sexes excavate or enlarge the interior. The female adds bark strips and lines it with moss, fur, bark, leaves, or grass. She takes 6-11 days to complete her nest. The male feeds her from courtship through laying. She lays 5-8 eggs which she incubates for 11-14 days. Development is altricial and young fledge after 13-17 days. Both parents care for the young. Chickadees form a long-term pair bond. Young of the previous brood may help at the nest.
   Chickadees may remain in family groups in the fall and may join mixed flocks with other small birds.
  DIET: Chickadees feed on insects, fruit, spiders and their eggs, and some snails. They eat more vegetable material in winter (seeds and berries). They forage amid twigs and branches, gleaning food from the surfaces. They may hang upside down to reach the underside of branches. They may take food while hovering and will sometimes flycatch. They are happy campers at feeders that contain suet, sunflower seeds or peanut hearts. They sometimes hold the larger sunflower seed with their feet as they pound with their bill to open it.
  VOICE: Their song is discussed above. Their contact notes, a "deee, deee, deee" is similar to that of the Tufted Titmouse so you may need to look (however, they often sing as well so your task is not hard). Tits are vocal species, often traveling in social or family groups!
   Checklists -
      Seabrook (breeds). Kiawah - common year round (breeds) Edisto - resident.
      Coastal - common permanent resident. Hilton Head - common permanent resident. Cape Romain - common year-round, breeds.
         Huntington Beach
- common, year-round
      Caw Caw - abundant year-round, breeds. ACE - common year-round, breeds.
   Kiawah Island banding - Capn' Sam's spit - 7 (8 repeats) Jul-Nov 2009; 4 Sep 2009; 3 Jan-Feb 2010; 4 recaptures Jan-Feb 2010;
          1 (2 recaptures) Mar-Apr 2010; 8 (27 recaptures) Aug-Nov 2010; 1 (6 recaptures) Jan-May 2011; 10 (20 recaptures) Aug-Nov 2011;
          (4 recaptures) Jan-Mar 2012; 14 (25 repeats) Aug-Sep 2012. Cougar Island - 2 Sep-Oct 2009.
   CBC: ACE 162, 35, 130, 171, 106, 225, 175, 185; Charleston 81, 96, 51, 74, 52, 236, 102, 103;
            St Helena/Fripp x, x, x, x, x, x, 229, 291; Hilton Head 505, 707, 502, 588, 508, 479, 429, 627;
               Sun City/Okatie 167, 476. 186, 338, 151 594, 246, 223;
            McClellanville 33, 88, 68, 90, nc, 53, 107, 73; Winyah Bay x, x, 10, 48, 39, 64, 72, 32; Litchfield/Pawley's 118, 144, 78, 75, 64, 204, 136, 204.
   SCBBA: All coastal counties and throughout the state.
   P&G: Common resident. Egg dates: 21 March - 20 May.
   Avendex: 1 report. 223 birds, Cape Romain, 23 December 1980.
   Potter: Common permanent resident of woodlands. It is replaced at higher altitudes (>4,500') in the mountains by Black-capped Chickadees. It may be locally scarce or absent along the coast wherever trees are few and far between.
  ●  Carolina Chickadees are common year round on Seabrook in our forests and edges. They are vocal, keeping in contact with their "zee zee" calls as social groups move around the island.
   In winter, chickadees may gather in tree cavities (and nest boxes) in small groups (several families - to 20 or so birds) to conserve heat and individuals may become slightly hypothermic (lower body temperature).

Nest Boxes

   Carolina Chickadees (and Brown-headed Nuthatches) may use bluebird boxes, especially if they are in areas with more trees than the bluebird likes. Many of the European parids also nest in boxes. However, attempts to get the Black-capped Chickadee to use boxes in New England were unsuccessful. The solution proved to be to cut birch logs (6" or more in diameter) into 8-12" segments, drilling the center and connecting it with a hole to the outside. Then the drilled space was packed with peat moss and a top an bottom nailed onto the box. Guess what? The chickadees used the boxes. Apparently excavating the cavity (removing the peat moss) is part of the expectation of this species.
   Consider the benefits provided by studying a species that nests in artificial structures. You know where they are and can check them at will. Finding natural tree cavities is much harder and you can't get inside to count eggs, weigh young, etc., unless you destroy the cavity. (Margaret Morse Nice, a Columbus housewife, made history with her classic studies of the Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia. Ernst Mayr described her work as the first real modern biological study of a species. However, when asked what she would do different next time, she replied that she'd use another species. Song Sparrow nests can be next to impossible to find.)
    Banner - Carolina Chickadee, Clemson.

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