It is 13.5–14 cm long, with a weight of 10–12 g. The plumage pattern is very similar to that of the western North American mountain chickadee P. gambeli (of which it has on occasion been considered a subspecies, despite its being on a different continent), differing in the breast and cheeks being rusty brown, not white, and having a longer and more sharply defined white eyebrow; the back is also a richer brown, not greyish-brown (del Hoyo et al. 2007).
It breeds in alpine shrub forests of Berberis, Rhamnus, Rhododendron, and Salix at 3,200–4,235 m altitude, descending in winter to slightly lower levels where it occurs in coniferous forests, primarily Picea. It nests on the ground in rock crevices or old rodent burrows (del Hoyo et al. 2007).
The genus name Poecile has often been treated as feminine (giving the species name ending superciliosa); however, this was not specified by the original genus author Johann Jakob Kaup, and under the rules of the ICZN, the genus name must therefore be treated by default as masculine, giving the name ending superciliosus (del Hoyo et al. 2007).