The folks in the Riverwalk Bird Club don’t just watch birds. The group includes some excellent photographers. Outdoors is happy to share their great photos by featuring a Bird of the Week.

This week, our inaugural week, we feature a Carolina chickadee by Jack Gentle, taken at the Greenway Farm in Hixson.


One of four birds J. J. Audubon “discovered” and named while in coastal South Carolina, the Carolina chickadee ranges northward to New Jersey and Pennsylvania and westward to Kansas and eastern Texas. This is an active, acrobatic bird that often gleans insects, larvae or small spiders from the tips of branches. As a winter resident, this small bird must contend with cold temperatures and potential heat loss; through a variety of behavioral, physiological and anatomical adaptations, 40 to 60 percent survive the winter.

Like black-capped chickadees, wintering Carolina chickadees form flocks that travel and forage together. The highest-ranking males and their mates that survive the winter breed within the flock’s territory the following spring. Lower-ranking individuals are usually forced off the winter flock’s territory, although a few males remain on the territory as summer “floaters.” The Carolina chickadee typically produces only one brood a year. Throughout the annual social cycle of this species, members of the group (whether a mated pair, a family or a flock) constantly communicate vocally and visually with each other and with rivals.

Carolina and black-capped chickadees are similar in appearance; not surprisingly, the two are often confused. Although morphologically similar, they are genetically distinct species, with details of their phylogenetic relationship to each other and to other members of the genus not yet fully resolved.

Careful observation allows for numerous ways to distinguish between Carolina and black-capped chickadees. For example, the Carolina chickadee has noticeably less white in its greater wing-coverts than does the black-capped, and it has a proportionately shorter tail. The Carolina chickadee’s four- to six-note song and its broader song repertoire contrast with the black-capped’s simple fee-bee song.

Although most Carolina chickadees live south of their black-capped relatives, the two species overlap and often hybridize where their ranges meet.

This information is courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.