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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

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Maximum longevity: 10.9 years (wild)
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Poecile carolinensis

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A small (4 ½ inches) songbird, the Carolina Chickadee is most easily identified by its gray back and tail, pale breast, black chin, and black cap. However, positive identification of this species is complicated where its range overlaps with that of the closely related Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus). Carolina Chickadees are generally smaller and darker-winged than their northern relatives, but it is often impossible to separate the two species in the field by physical appearance alone. Hybrids with mixed physical and vocal characteristics do occur, further complicating identification. Male and female Carolina Chickadees are similar to one another in all seasons. The Carolina Chickadee breeds across much of the southeastern United States from the Mid-Atlantic south to central Florida and west to Texas. This species’ range overlaps with that of the Black-capped Chickadee in a narrow band stretching from the Mid-Atlantic region west to Kansas, particularly where that species’ range dips southward at higher elevations in the lower Appalachian Mountains. Carolina Chickadees are generally non-migratory. Carolina Chickadees inhabit a number of forest types, including deciduous and mixed deciduous-evergreen woodland habitats. This species also utilizes human-altered habitats, and may be found in urban and suburban areas where food and sufficient tree cover are available. Carolina Chickadees eat a variety of plant and animal foods, with insects predominating in summer and seeds becoming more important in winter. In appropriate habitat, Carolina Chickadees may be observed foraging for food in the tree canopy, often hanging from the ends of branches while eating seeds or picking insects off of leaves and bark. This species is also a common backyard feeder bird, visiting feeding trays as part of mixed flocks of small songbirds. This species’ song, a whistled “fee-bee, fee-bay” and its call, a clear “chick-a-dee-dee-dee,” are both higher-pitched than those of the Black-capped Chickadee. Carolina Chickadees are primarily active during the day.

Threat Status: Least Concern

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Smithsonian Institution
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Reid Rumelt

Poecile carolinensis

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A small (4 ½ inches) songbird, the Carolina Chickadee is most easily identified by its gray back and tail, pale breast, black chin, and black cap. However, positive identification of this species is complicated where its range overlaps with that of the closely related Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus). Carolina Chickadees are generally smaller and darker-winged than their northern relatives, but it is often impossible to separate the two species in the field by physical appearance alone. Hybrids with mixed physical and vocal characteristics do occur, further complicating identification. Male and female Carolina Chickadees are similar to one another in all seasons. The Carolina Chickadee breeds across much of the southeastern United States from the Mid-Atlantic south to central Florida and west to Texas. This species’ range overlaps with that of the Black-capped Chickadee in a narrow band stretching from the Mid-Atlantic region west to Kansas, particularly where that species’ range dips southward at higher elevations in the lower Appalachian Mountains. Carolina Chickadees are generally non-migratory. Carolina Chickadees inhabit a number of forest types, including deciduous and mixed deciduous-evergreen woodland habitats. This species also utilizes human-altered habitats, and may be found in urban and suburban areas where food and sufficient tree cover are available. Carolina Chickadees eat a variety of plant and animal foods, with insects predominating in summer and seeds becoming more important in winter. In appropriate habitat, Carolina Chickadees may be observed foraging for food in the tree canopy, often hanging from the ends of branches while eating seeds or picking insects off of leaves and bark. This species is also a common backyard feeder bird, visiting feeding trays as part of mixed flocks of small songbirds. This species’ song, a whistled “fee-bee, fee-bay” and its call, a clear “chick-a-dee-dee-dee,” are both higher-pitched than those of the Black-capped Chickadee. Carolina Chickadees are primarily active during the day.

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Rumelt, Reid B. Poecile carolinensis. June-July 2012. Brief natural history summary of Poecile carolinensis. Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C.
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Robert Costello (kearins)
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Carolina chickadee

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The Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) is a small passerine bird in the tit family Paridae. It is often placed in the genus Parus with most other tits, but mtDNA cytochrome b sequence data and morphology suggest that separating Poecile more adequately expresses these birds' relationships (Gill et al., 2005). The American Ornithologists' Union has been treating Poecile as distinct genus since 1998[2].

Description

Adults are 11.5–13 cm (4.5–5.1 in) long with a weight of 9–12 g (0.32–0.42 oz), and have a black cap and bib with white sides to the face. Their underparts are white with rusty brown on the flanks; their back is grey. They have a short dark bill, short wings and a moderately long tail. Very similar to the black-capped chickadee, the Carolina chickadee is distinguished by the slightly browner wing with the greater coverts brown (not whitish fringed) and the white fringing on the secondary feathers slightly less conspicuous; the tail is also slightly shorter and more square-ended.

Vocalization

The calls and song also differ subtly to an experienced ear: the Carolina chickadee's chick-a-dee call is faster and higher pitched than that of the black-capped chickadee, and the Carolina chickadee has a four note fee-bee-fee-bay song, whereas the black-capped omits the high notes. Identification is very difficult even with an excellent view.

The most famous call is the familiar chick-a-dee-dee-dee which gave this bird its name and its song is fee-bee-fee-bay.

Carolina chickadees are so similar to black-capped chickadees that they themselves have trouble telling their species apart. Because of this they sometimes mate producing hybrids. The most obvious difference between the three chickadees is that the Carolina chickadee sings four-note song, black-capped sing two-note songs, and the hybrids sing three-note songs.[1]

Distribution and habitat

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A Carolina chickadee cavity nest site, previously red-bellied woodpecker

Their breeding habitat is mixed or deciduous woods in the United States from New Jersey west to southern Kansas and south to Florida and Texas; there is a gap in the range at high altitudes in the Appalachian Mountains where they are replaced by their otherwise more northern relative, the black-capped chickadee. They nest in a hole in a tree; the pair excavates the nest, using a natural cavity or sometimes an old woodpecker nest. They may interbreed with black-capped chickadees where the ranges overlap, which can make identification difficult.

They are permanent residents, not usually moving south even in severe winter weather.

Diet

These birds hop along tree branches searching for insects, sometimes hanging upside down or hovering; they may make short flights to catch insects in the air. Insects form a large part of their diet, especially in summer; seeds and berries become important in winter. They sometimes hammer seeds on a tree or shrub to open them; they also will store seeds for later use.

During the fall migration and winter, chickadees often flock together. Many other species of birds, including titmice, nuthatches, and warblers can often be found foraging in these flocks. Mixed flocks stay together because the chickadees call out whenever they find a good source of food. This calling out forms cohesion for the group, allowing the other birds to find food more efficiently.

Temperature regulation

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Carolina chickadee on a branch

Carolina chickadees are able to lower their body temperatures to induce an intentional state of hypothermia called torpor. They do this to conserve energy during extremely cold winters. In extremely cold weather conditions they look for cavities where they can hide in and spend up to fifteen hours at a time in torpor; during this time they are awake but unresponsive; they should not be picked up and handled at this time, as the stress of being held may cause their death.

References

  • Del Hoyo, J., Elliot, A., & Christie D. (eds). (2007). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 12: Picathartes to Tits and Chickadees. Lynx Edicions. .mw-parser-output cite.citation{font-style:inherit}.mw-parser-output q{quotes:"""""'"'"}.mw-parser-output code.cs1-code{color:inherit;background:inherit;border:inherit;padding:inherit}.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-free a{background:url("//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/65/Lock-green.svg/9px-Lock-green.svg.png")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-registration a{background:url("//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d6/Lock-gray-alt-2.svg/9px-Lock-gray-alt-2.svg.png")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-subscription a{background:url("//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/aa/Lock-red-alt-2.svg/9px-Lock-red-alt-2.svg.png")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration{color:#555}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription span,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration span{border-bottom:1px dotted;cursor:help}.mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{display:none;font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error{font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration,.mw-parser-output .cs1-format{font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-left,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-left{padding-left:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-right,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-right{padding-right:0.2em}ISBN 978-84-96553-42-2
  • Gill, F. B., Slikas, B., & Sheldon, F. H. (2005). Phylogeny of titmice (Paridae): II. Species relationships based on sequences of the mitochondrial cytochrome-b gene. Auk 122: 121-143. DOI: 10.1642/0004-8038(2005)122[0121:POTPIS]2.0.CO;2 HTML abstract
  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Parus carolinensis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  2. ^ American Ornithologists' Union. 1998. Check-list of North American birds. 7th edition Washington, D.C.: American Ornithologists' Union.

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Carolina chickadee: Brief Summary

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The Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) is a small passerine bird in the tit family Paridae. It is often placed in the genus Parus with most other tits, but mtDNA cytochrome b sequence data and morphology suggest that separating Poecile more adequately expresses these birds' relationships (Gill et al., 2005). The American Ornithologists' Union has been treating Poecile as distinct genus since 1998.

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