Paridaechickadees and titmice(Also: tits and chickadees)


The family Paridae includes many charismatic species of chickadees, tits and titmice. The extant species of this group diverged from their ancestral lineage 15.1 million years ago. The family includes 59 species, divided into nine genera. All of the birds within this family are very vocal. Many of the species within this group have an open-ended language. Chickadees and titmice have been known to form foraging groups with individuals outside of their species. These birds are often grouped by their differing abilities to cache food. Chickadees cache food for the winter months. They have an especially large hippocampus that allows for them to memorize many locations. Genus Baeolophus encompasses the North American titmice. Genus Parus and Genus Cyanistes are sister taxa. Poecile and Lophophanes are sister taxa. They are a group of small birds that fly short distances in a bounding motion. Their beaks tend to be short and are used to feed on insects and seeds. Most of these birds lack brightly colored feathers, but Eurasian species often have some blue and yellow coloring incorporated into their physique. Baeolophus often have a higher crest than Poecile or Cyanistes. The species within Paridae range from 0.34 oz. to 0.6 oz. (Ficken, et al., 1978; "ITIS", 2020; Johansson, et al., 2018; Kvist, 2003; Lovette and Fitzpatrick, 2017; Sibley, 2014; Slikas, et al., 1996)

Geographic Range

Paridae species can be found all over the world. They are found in Europe, North America, Asia, and Africa. They are especially prevalent in the palearctic areas. These birds have less competition in these areas. They are not found in Australia. They are most commonly found in North America and on the Eurasian continent. Parus major and Cyanistes caeruleus are native to the Eurasian continent but a few captive individuals have escaped in North America. Some species can be found in the Afrotropics. Sylviparus modestus can be found in the Himalayas. The most recent common ancestor of Paridae originated in the Himalayas. Genus Baeolophus spread to the Nearctic region, while Melaniparus spread to Africa. Poecile has been a North American Genus for about 3.8 million years. It was one of the most recent divergences via geographic isolation at the Genus level of this group. (Johansson, et al., 2018; Lovette and Fitzpatrick, 2017; Sibley, 2014; Zdravko, 2019)


Most of the members of family Paridae live in woodland areas. They live in temperate forests and they do not migrate during the winter. They are able to handle temperature changes within their environment. Chickadees and Tits are cavity nesters. In urban areas, they can be found in nest boxes. These birds lay eggs in March. They use small twigs for their nests. Chickadees from Genus Poecile spend the winter in groups. Genus Cyanistes prefers sycamore, birch and oak trees for nesting. These birds are found commonly in urban settings. Poecile are common in conifer, Douglas-Fir, oak, pine and aspen forests. These birds frequent bird feeders and are commonly integrated into suburban and urban ecosystems. (Ficken, et al., 1978; Lovette and Fitzpatrick, 2017; Sibley, 2014; Slikas, et al., 1996; Zdravko, 2019)

Systematic and Taxonomic History

The family Paridae has been consistent in the literature since Vigors named it in 1825. Sylviparus was originally classified as a genus within the family Paridae, but its place within the family has been debated. Based on molecular data from the cytochrome b gene, Sylviparus and Melanochlora are in a monophyletic group within Paridae. The family Sittidae is closely related to the family Paridae. This taxon includes the nuthatches. Remizidae is also a close relative of Paridae. There are many subspecies within each genera of the family Paridae. The genus Poecile was originally classified as a subgenus under the genus Parus. The genus Poecile is more closely related to the genus Baeolophus than it is to the genus Parus. (Gill, et al., 2005; "ITIS", 2020; Johansson, et al., 2018; Sibley, 2014; Slikas, et al., 1996)

  • Synapomorphies
    • short cone-shaped beaks covered in bristles
    • specialized leg muscles for hanging upside down on tree branches
    • Social foraging
    • Specialized vocaliziations

Physical Description

Paridae constitutes a large group of birds that are small with short rounded wings and short legs. They have small curved beaks meant for eating seeds and insects. They are often drab in coloration. Many have white or yellow breast coloring. Titmice often sport a high arching crest. They are passerine birds, meaning that they have a keel to support the pectoral muscles needed for flight. Species in the Parus genus are often marginally bigger than species in the Poecile genus. Juvenile plumage is often very similar to the adult plumage. Male titmice may have slightly darker crests during mating season. Most species of the family Paridae contain Males and females are often not sexually dimorphic. Physical traits often directly correlate with male dominance. Males who are leaner and have longer wings are usually more successful in mating. (Lovette and Fitzpatrick, 2017; Sibley, 2014)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike


Chickadees, tits and titmice are extremely vocal. In the spring, these vocalizations are often used to attract a mate. Species within Paridae are monogamous, but females will leave their male partner for a higher ranking male in the next season if that male's mate has died. Plumage does not attract females in the Genus Poecile, but the plumage coloration does affect mating success in Cyanistes and Parus. Species within Paridae hybridize frequently. Males who transpose other male songs onto their own often attract more females. Photoperiod is a trigger for stimulating the production of hormones within the gonads of Paridae species. As the daylight time lengthens, these hormones increase. These birds mate in the spring. Males are dominant over females in most cases. The most dominant male and female tend to become breeding partners. Males who sing longer and at a higher pitch often have higher fitness measures. Females of the family Paridae will often participate in extrapair copulation to increase the fitness of their clutch. They will only mate with a higher ranking male with better territory if this extrapair copulation occurs. (Otter, 2007)

Chickadees, tits and titmice usually breed in the spring. Like most birds, females have one ovary to reduce their weight for flight. Chickadees have an average clutch size of 6.8 with 92% hatching success. Baeolophus bicolor can have a clutch of between 3-9 eggs with an incubation period of 12-14 days. (Cornell University, 2019; Lovette and Fitzpatrick, 2017; Otter, 2007)

In a mating pair of individuals in the family Paridae, both the male and the female provide food for nestlings. Clutch size among species of Paridae birds can differ quite greatly. The Great Tit can lay its weight in eggs while blue tits have remarkably smaller clutch sizes. Dominant pairs often incubate their eggs for longer and feed them less often. This leads to higher survival of fledglings. Many of the species within Paridae are cavity nesters. Some species can excavate their own cavities, but they often rely on other species to excavate a hole in the tree for them to nest in. They use trees with smaller diameter and high decay to nest in. (Otter, 2007)


Chickadees, Tits, and Titmice are small birds with high metabolic rates. Their high metabolic rates are responsible for their short lifespans. For the genus Poecile, the average lifespan is about 2 years, but they can live up to 10 years. (Prinzinger, 1993; Schubert, et al., 2008)


Chickadees, Tits, and Titmice are extremely social. They not only interact with birds of their own species, they also form interspecies foraging groups. Many different birds will respond to a Black-capped Chickadee's mobbing calls. These birds are extremely territorial. They form social hierarchies. Older males are often the most dominant. Males will often participate in vocal duels during the time of breeding and territory establishment. Birds in the family Paridae fly for short distances in a bounding fashion. They cannot maintain this flight for very long. They are an arboreal species. They do not spend very much time on the ground, where they would be more vulnerable to predation. Many of these birds are well known for food caching. They have an extremely good spatial memory. (Hurd, 1996; Otter, 2007; Sibley, 2014)

Communication and Perception

Chickadees, tits and titmice are very vocal. They have an open-ended language. Longer alarm calls correlate to smaller predators. Shorter alarm calls correlate to larger predators in the area. They can transpose other bird songs with theirs. They have many different types of calls. In Poecile, the gargle and chicka-dee-dee calls are considered to be social calls. The Fee-bees function as the song of the chickadee. They do not vary the notes of this song. Instead they vary the frequency. Females often prefer males with higher pitched songs that last for longer durations. Poecile atricapillus individuals are able to recognize when animals that are not even avian species are upset. This helps them to be better at predator avoidance. They had the same level of recognition of other species in distress as humans. (Cogdon, et al., 2019; Ficken, et al., 1978; Kalb and Randler, 2019; Otter, 2007)

Food Habits

Chickadees, tits and titmice are omnivorous. They consume insects and seeds. The relative amounts of insects versus seeds that are consumed varies seasonally. Their diet consists of about 50% animal matter in the winter and changes to about 90% animal matter in the spring. Chickadees, tits and titmice within the family Paridae hoard food, starting in the fall to late winter. Their brains have evolved to allow for intricate spatial memory. The hippocampus is enlarged. Caterpillars are a highly proteinaceous food resource to Parus major. Feeding their nestlings caterpillars increases fledgling success. (Hajdasz, et al., 2019; Smulders, et al., 1994; Thirakhupt, 1985)


Chickadees, tits and titmice are prey to numerous species of arboreal animals. Tufted Titmice and Black-Capped Chickadees will let out high pitched "zee" calls when a predator is near. They cease all activity while that predator is in the area. Once the predator has passed, chickadees will resume their "chicka-dee" calls. These birds often form interspecific foraging groups with nuthatches and woodpeckers along with individuals of their own species. They are also aided by other birds such as the Grey Catbird when they elicit mobbing calls. They can recognize the distress calls of these other birds. They warn each other of predators while increasing their time foraging. These birds can encode information about the threat level of the predator and the size of the predator within their calls. They can also differ their calls by the urgency of predator avoidance. (Cogdon, et al., 2019; Ficken and Witkin, 1997; Freeberg, et al., 2015; Hurd, 1996; Kalb and Randler, 2019)

  • Known Predators
    • Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis
    • mink Neovison vison
    • Shrike Lanius excubitor
    • Red-shouldered hawk Buteo lineatus
    • Saw-whet owl Aegolius acadicus
    • Tawny owl Strix aluco
    • Sparrow hawk Accipiter nisus

Ecosystem Roles

Chickadees, tits and titmice are seed dispersers. Some of the seeds that they cache will not be found and eaten. These seeds are left to flourish. These birds also participate in mutualistic behavior in interspecific feeding groups. They warn these birds when predators are in the area. Many birds respond to the mobbing calls of these birds. They also feed on insects and arachnids. They aid in population control of these animals. (Cogdon, et al., 2019; Hajdasz, et al., 2019; Hurd, 1996; Kalb and Randler, 2019; Otter, 2007; Stankovic, et al., 2019)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
Mutualist Species
  • Dumetella carolinensis
  • Vireo olivaceus
  • Sitta canadensis
  • Dryobates villosus
Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • Leucocytozoon spp.
  • Haemoproteus sp.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Chickadees, Tits, and Titmice are model organisms for research. They are charismatic and easy to catch. They are easily attracted to bird feeders. They can often be an indicator of the health of the environment. People also enjoy watching these birds at their bird feeders. Because their diet includes insects, they limit pest species in a small degree. (Otter, 2007; Perrier, et al., 2018)

  • Positive Impacts
  • research and education
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

While birds in the family Paridae are carriers of avian malaria, this is not a zoonotic form of the disease. This group does not have any negative effects on humans. (Stankovic, et al., 2019)

Conservation Status

Most of the birds within Paridae are of least concern. There are no species from the family Paridae on the IUCN red list. They are very common. These birds have thrived in new urban settings. (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, 2020; Perrier, et al., 2018)

  • IUCN Red List [Link]
    Not Evaluated

Other Comments

Chickadees in the genus Poecile undergo nocturnal hypothermia. They reduce their metabolic rate so that they are not using as much energy to warm themselves. This allows them to survive extreme cold conditions. Parus major has another adaptation to harsh conditions in winter. When protein is scarce, these birds will attack hibernating bats and eat their brains. (Cooper and Swanson, 1994; McCullough, 2018)


Aisling Kyne (author), Colorado State University.



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


living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

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.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


having a worldwide distribution. Found on all continents (except maybe Antarctica) and in all biogeographic provinces; or in all the major oceans (Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
dominance hierarchies

ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates


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.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


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


an animal that mainly eats seeds


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


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).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

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


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map


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

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


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


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


mature spermatozoa are stored by females following copulation. Male sperm storage also occurs, as sperm are retained in the male epididymes (in mammals) for a period that can, in some cases, extend over several weeks or more, but here we use the term to refer only to sperm storage by females.

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.


uses sight to communicate


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