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Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Boreal Chickadee - Poecile hudsonicus

Species of Concern
Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S3

Agency Status

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Copyright by Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics, Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, all rights reserved.
General Description
Boreal Chickadees are larger than most other chickadee species. Only the Chestnut-backed Chickadee is of similar size; both species are about 5.5 inches in length. Boreal Chickadees weigh about 10 grams. Both sexes of the species are similar in appearance; they are brownish overall, with a brown cap and back and rufous flanks. The face is white but the side of the neck has more gray, making a distinct two-color look to the face. The tail and wings of the Boreal Chickadee are both plain gray. Juvenile Boreal Chickadees are similar to adults but duller and paler overall (Ficken et al. 1996).

For a comprehensive review of the conservation status, habitat use, and ecology of this and other Montana bird species, please see Marks et al. 2016, Birds of Montana.

Diagnostic Characteristics
The Boreal Chickadee is distinguished from the Black-capped Chickadee (P. altricapilla) by having plain gray wings and tail instead of having bold white edges on the wings and tail as does the Black-capped Chickadee. The nape of the Black-capped Chickadee is mostly white instead of the gray of the Boreal Chickadee. Also, the flanks of the Boreal Chickadee are rustier in color compared to the buffy, washed-out color on the flanks of the Black-capped Chickadee. The Mountain Chickadee (P. gambeli) has no rusty coloration and has a white streak (supercillium) above the eye that is diagnostic. The Chestnut-backed Chickadee has a deep chestnut colored back and flanks and is easily distinguishable from the Boreal Chickadee (Sibley 2014).

Species Range
Montana Range Range Descriptions


Western Hemisphere Range


Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 811

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density


SUMMER (Feb 16 - Dec 14)
Direct Evidence of Breeding

Indirect Evidence of Breeding

No Evidence of Breeding

WINTER (Dec 15 - Feb 15)
Regularly Observed

Not Regularly Observed


(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

Montana is in the southern extreme of the Boreal Chickadee's breeding range. Any southward migration of this species ends in northwestern Montana. The species has been observed in migration as early as June, but the majority of observations have occurred in August and September. They have been observed moving into Montana as late as November (Montana Bird Distribution Committee 2012).

No information regarding Boreal Chickadee habitat specific to Montana exists. However, information from other regions where Boreal Chickadees occur indicates the habitat is boreal coniferous and mixed forests, muskeg bogs, in the vicinity of white cedar and hemlock swamps, birches and streamside willows. The species nests in natural cavities or abandoned woodpecker holes, or in a cavity dug by a pair in a rotten tree stub, usually within 1 meter of the ground (but up to 3.7 m).

Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
  • Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
    How Associations Were Made
    We associated the use and habitat quality (common or occasional) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
    1. Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2012, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
    2. Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species' range and habitat requirements;
    3. Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point observation database associated with each ecological system;
    4. Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of "observations versus availability of habitat".
    Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.  In general, species were listed as associated with an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.  However, species were not listed as associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if point observations were associated with that system.  Common versus occasional association with an ecological system was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species as represented in scientific literature.  The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignment of common versus occasional association.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact the Montana Natural Heritage Program's Senior Zoologist.

    Suggested Uses and Limitations
    Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.  These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.  Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.  Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.  Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).  Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species' known geographic range.

    Literature Cited
    • Adams, R.A.  2003.  Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.  289 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S.  1992.  Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34.  Missoula, MT.
    • Foresman, K.R.  2012.  Mammals of Montana.  Second edition.  Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana.  429 pp.
    • Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998.  Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates.  Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.  1302 p.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young.  1999.  Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32.  72 p.
    • Maxell, B.A.  2000.  Management of Montana's amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species.  Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1.  Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.  161 p.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath.  2004.  Amphibians and reptiles of Montana.  Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.

Food Habits
The Boreal Chickadee eats conifer and birch seeds, and the eggs, larval stages, and adults of insects. It forages mainly on twigs and branches of trees (Terres 1980).

Territorial during the breeding season, but flocks the remainder of the year (Ficken et al. 1996).

Reproductive Characteristics
Little information exists regarding Boreal Chickadee reproduction in Montana. No systematic surveys have been done in the state. Also, Boreal Chickadee breeding habitat is located where surveys would be difficult due to inaccessibility and terrain. Only three known breeding records exist for the Boreal Chickadee in the state and all of them occurred between 1980 and 1985 (Montana Bird Distribution Committee 2012).

Based upon general information available for the species, the clutch size is 4 to 9 (usually 6 to 7). The female incubates 11 to 16 days. Young are tended by both parents and usually leave the nest at 18 days.

No known active management is ongoing for Boreal Chickadees in the state.

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Citation for data on this website:
Boreal Chickadee — Poecile hudsonicus.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from