Parus gambelimountain chickadee

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Geographic Range

The Mountain Chickadee is found in the mountains of southwest Canada and the western United States. They are most abundant in Oregon and northern California. (Evans, 1994; Paul, 2000)

Habitat

Poecile gambeli is found in mountain coniferous and mixed woodlands. During nesting season they live at elevations of three kilometers or more. In the fall and winter they migrate to lower elevations. (Terres,1980)

Physical Description

The Mountain Chickadee has a short, round body, and on average is only 13 centimeters in length. It can be recognized by its black crown and throat, white cheeks, and distinctive white eyebrow. This white eyebrow, along with its pale gray sides, distinguish this species from other chickadees. The Mountain Chickadee also has grayish-white underparts and gray flanks. Males and females look alike. Rocky Mountain forms have buff on the back, sides and flanks, and have broader white eyebrows.

The Mountain Chickadee is well adapted for a cold environment. The soft down next to their skin provides insulation, and their outer contour feathers are tight and waterproof. (Scott, 1987; Harrison, 1983; Cassidy, 1990)

  • Average mass
    10.5 g
    0.37 oz

Reproduction

The breeding activity of the Mountain Chickadee occurs in the spring, from April to July. The female can lay from 6-12 eggs, but on average lays 8-9. She then sits on these eggs, which can be plain white or spotted with brown, for an incubation period of 14 days. During this time, her mate is always nearby to defend their territory and collects the food for both of them. Occasionally the female may leave the eggs to look for food herself, but covers them with the lining of the nest before she goes. She always spends the entire night on the eggs. When the eggs hatch, both parents work hard to bring a never-ending supply of food to the young. The offspring leave the nest after about 20 days. They will still be fed by their parents for a few weeks after they fledge, while gradually learning to feed themselves. The Mountain Chickadee has been recorded as living up to almost 8 years in the wild. (Harrison, 1983; Terres 1980)

  • Average eggs per season
    8
    AnAge
  • Average time to hatching
    14 days
    AnAge

Lifespan/Longevity

Behavior

The Mountain Chickadee is an acrobatic, tree-loving bird with fantastic agility. They are able to find food in places that other animals overlook because they are comfortable at any angle, right-side up or upside down. Their flight maneuvers give them an advantage in avoiding enemies. They can change direction in mid-air in 0.03 seconds.

Their call is a chick-a-dee-a-dee, or a three or four note decending whistle, fee-bee-bay, or fee-bee-fee-bee. They are social and are always flitting about, seemingly very cheerful as they carry on a chatter with flockmates.

In the spring, the flocks of chickadees start to split into pairs, usually with the same partner as the previous year. Some pairs are mated for life. The male often brings food as a gift to the female, and defends the territory around their nest which may include as much as eight to seventeen acres. They nest in a natural cavity, abandoned woodpecker hole, birdhouse, or a hole dug out by the pair in a rotted stump or tree. They can nest just a few centimeters above the ground or as high as twenty five meters, but are usually content with a height of two to five meters. When they have completed digging the cavity, it will be approximately 13 to 20 centimeters deep. This task takes the pair about a week to ten days to complete. During the next three or four days, the female creates the actual nest by lining it with soft material such as animal fur, feathers, or moss and plant fibers. When the nest is ready, the female will lay her eggs. (Harrison, 1983; Evans, 1994; Terres,1980)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Poecile gambeli spend nearly all their daylight hours feeding. They are omnivorous, with 70% of their diet coming from insects and 30% from plants. They eat mostly caterpillars, spiders, beetles, ants, sawflies, gypsy moths, plant lice and cicadas. The Mountain Chickadee has a sharp beak used for opening seeds and eating wild berries. They especially like bayberries and poison ivy berries. They frequently visit feeding stations, especially when they have young, and like sunflower seeds, suet and cracked corn. (Harrison, 1983)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Mountain Chickadees are enjoyable to watch and frequently visit feeding stations. They are quite tame and can easily be taught to eat from your hand. They also help control insect populations. (Harrison, 1983)

Conservation Status

The destruction of standing deadwood makes it difficult for these cavity-nesting birds to find breeding accomodations and nesting sites. However, the Mountain Chickadee has little current threat to its population. (Cassidy, 1990)

Other Comments

At the end of each winter's day, chickadees have accumulated reserves of fat which they will use during the night. Their body temperature drops about 11 degrees Celsius, and breathing and heart rate slow so that the next morning they have enough energy to start the day.

The genus name of the Mountain Chickadee has recently been changed from Parus to Poecile. (Harrison, 1983)

Contributors

Kate Thome (author), Milford High School, George Campbell (editor), Milford High School.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

tactile

uses touch to communicate

taiga

Coniferous or boreal forest, located in a band across northern North America, Europe, and Asia. This terrestrial biome also occurs at high elevations. Long, cold winters and short, wet summers. Few species of trees are present; these are primarily conifers that grow in dense stands with little undergrowth. Some deciduous trees also may be present.

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

Cassidy, J. 1990. Book of North American Birds. New York: The Reader's Digest Association, Inc..

Evans, D. 1994. Wildlife of the World. New York: Marshall Cavendish Corporation.

Harrison, K., G. Harrison. 1983. America's Favorite Backyard Birds. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Paul, J. "The Chickadee-Web" (On-line). Accessed October 2, 2000 at http://www.chickadee-web.com/.

Scott, S. 1987. Field Guide to the Birds of North America. Washington, D.C.: The National Geographic Society.

Terres, J. 1980. The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc..