Chestnut-backed chickadee

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Chestnut-backed chickadee
Chestnut-backed chickadee by Louis Agassiz Fuertes
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Paridae
Genus: Poecile
P. rufescens
Binomial name
Poecile rufescens
(Townsend 1837)
Range of Poecile rufescens

Parus rufescens

The chestnut-backed chickadee (Poecile rufescens), formerly Parus rufescens, is a small passerine bird in the tit family, Paridae.

It is found in the Pacific Northwest of the United States and western Canada, from southern Alaska to southwestern California. It is a permanent resident within its range, with some seasonal movements as feeding flocks move short distances in search of food. They usually move to lower elevations in the same area upon onset of winter and move back up to higher elevations in late summer.

Chickadees are able to use nocturnal hypothermia to regulate energy expenditure, allowing them to survive harsh winters where other bird species not utilizing thermal regulation would not be able to. Some estimates put the energy conserved while using nocturnal hypothermia all the way up to 32%.[2]

It is a small chickadee, 11.5–12.5 cm (4.5–4.9 in) long with a weight of 8.5–12.6 g (0.30–0.44 oz). The head is dark blackish-brown with white cheeks, the mantle is bright rufous-brown, the wing feathers are dark gray with paler fringes. The underparts are white to pale grayish-white, with rufous or pale gray flanks. It is often considered the most handsome of all chickadees.[3] They often move through the forest in mixed feeding flocks, and are often seen in large groups with bushtits and warblers.

There are three subspecies, with the flanks being grayer and less rufous further south:[4]

  • Poecile rufescens rufescens (Townsend, 1837). Alaska south to northwest California. Broad rufous band on flanks.
  • Poecile rufescens neglectus (Ridgway, 1879). Coastal central California (Marin County). Narrow rufous band on flanks.
  • Poecile rufescens barlowi (Grinnell, 1900). Coastal southwestern California (south of San Francisco Bay). Almost no rufous color on flanks.

Its habitat is low elevation coniferous and mixed coniferous forests. In the San Francisco Bay Area this bird has readily adapted to suburban settings, prompting a range expansion. It is a cavity-nester, usually utilizing an abandoned woodpecker hole, but sometimes excavating on its own. Chestnut-backed chickadees use much fur and hair to make their nests. Their nests are actually 50% fur and hair. The most common hair they use comes from deer, rabbits, and coyotes. The adult chickadees also make a layer of fur about a centimeter thick which is used to cover the eggs on the nest whenever they leave the nest. It lays 5–8 (sometimes 9) eggs per clutch.

Its food is largely insects and other invertebrates gleaned from foliage. Chestnut-backed chickadees take some seeds, especially those of conifers, and fruit. It will visit bird feeders, including hummingbird feeders, and especially loves suet.

Molecular phylogenetic studies have shown that the chestnut-backed chickadee is sister to the boreal chickadee (Poecile hudsonicus).[5][6][7]



  1. ^ BirdLife International (2016). "Poecile rufescens". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2016: e.T22711767A94308055. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22711767A94308055.en. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  2. ^ SHELDON J. COOPERS; DAVID L. SWANSON (1994). "SEASONAL ACCLIMATIZATION OF THERMOREGULATION IN THE BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE" (PDF). The Condor. 96: 638–646. doi:10.2307/1369467. JSTOR 1369467. Retrieved 31 March 2022.
  3. ^ "Birds of Sonoma County : Chestnut-backed chickadee". Archived from the original on 14 June 2011. Retrieved 31 March 2022.
  4. ^ 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. ISBN 978-84-96553-42-2
  5. ^ Johansson, Ulf S.; Ekman, Jan; Bowie, Rauri C. K.; Halvarsson, Peter; Ohlson, Jan I.; Price, Trevor D.; Ericson, Per G. P. (2013). "A complete multilocus species phylogeny of the tits and chickadees (Aves: Paridae)". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 69 (3): 852–860. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2013.06.019. PMID 23831453.
  6. ^ Tritsch, Christian; Martens, Jochen; Sun, Yue-Hua; Heim, Wieland; Strutzenberger, Patrick; Päckert, Martin (2017). "Improved sampling at the subspecies level solves a taxonomic dilemma – A case study of two enigmatic Chinese tit species (Aves, Passeriformes, Paridae, Poecile)". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 107: 538–550. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2016.12.014. PMID 27965081.
  7. ^ 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

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