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Boreal Chickadee -
Species of Concern Native Species Global Rank
Agency Status USFWS
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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.
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).
Western Hemisphere Range
Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations:
(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version)
Map Help and Descriptions
SUMMER (Feb 16 - Dec 14)
Direct Evidence of Breeding
Indirect Evidence of Breeding
No Evidence of Breeding
WINTER (Dec 15 - Feb 15)
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:
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);
Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species' range and habitat requirements;
Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point observation database associated with each ecological system;
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,
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.
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.
Commonly Associated with these Ecological Systems
Forest and Woodland Systems
Wetland and Riparian Systems
Occasionally Associated with these Ecological Systems
Recently Disturbed or Modified
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).
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.
Literature Cited Above
Legend: View Online Publication Marks, J.S., P. Hendricks, and D. Casey. 2016. Birds of Montana. Arrington, VA. Buteo Books. 659 pages. Montana Bird Distribution Committee. 2012. P.D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution. 7th Edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, Montana. 208 pp. + foldout map. Sibley, D. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY. 598 pp. Terres, J.K. 1980. The Audubon Society encyclopedia of North American birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 1109 pp. Additional References
Legend: View Online Publication Do you know of a citation we're missing? American Ornithologists’ Union [AOU]. 1997. Forty-first supplement to the American Ornithologists’ Union Check-list of North American birds. Auk 114(3):542-552. American Ornithologists’ Union [AOU]. 1998. Check-list of North American birds, 7th edition. American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D.C. 829 p. American Ornithologists’ Union [AOU]. 2000. Forty-second supplement to the American Ornithologists’ Union Check-list of North American birds. Auk 117:847-858. Dixon, K.L. 1961. Habitat distribution and niche relationships in North American species of Parus. Pages 179-216 in W. F. Blair, ed. Vertebrate Speciation. Univ. Texas Press, Austin. Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder’s handbook: a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon and Schuster Inc. New York. 785 pp. Farr, Daniel. 1993. Birds of the boreal forest. Pages 55-62 in Proc. of a workshop held March 10-12 in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Ficken, M.S., M.A. Mclaren, and J.P. Hailman. 1996. Boreal Chickadee ( Poecile hudsonica). Species Account Number 254. The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca, NY: Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology; Retrieved 3/25/2008 from The Birds of North America Online database Gill, F. B., A. M. Mostrom, and A. L. Mack. 1993. Speciation in North American chickadees: I. Patterns of mtDNA genetic divergence. Evolution 47:195-212. Hand, R.L. 1969. A distributional checklist of the birds of western Montana. Unpublished. Available at Mansfield Library, University of Montana, Missoula. Hays, R., R.L. Eng, and C.V. Davis (preparers). 1984. A list of Montana birds. Helena, MT: MT Dept. of Fish, Wildlife & Parks. Hejl, S.J., R.L. Hutto, C.R. Preston, and D.M. Finch. 1995. The effects of silvicultural treatments on forest birds in the Rocky Mountains. pp. 220-244 In: T.E. Martin and D.M. Finch (eds). Ecology and Management of Neotropical Migratory Birds. New York, NY: Oxford Univ. Press. 489 p. Jewett, S.G., W.P. Taylor, W.T. Shaw, and J.W. Aldrich. 1953. Birds of Washington state. Univ. Washington Press, Seattle. 767 pp. Johnsgard, P.A. 1992. Birds of the Rocky Mountains with particular reference to national parks in the northern Rocky Mountain region. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. xi + 504 pp. Joslin, Gayle, and Heidi B. Youmans. 1999. Effects of recreation on Rocky Mountain wildlife: a review for Montana. [Montana]: Montana Chapter of the Wildlife Society. Lenard, S., J. Carlson, J. Ellis, C. Jones, and C. Tilly. 2003. P. D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution, 6th edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, MT. 144 pp. McLaren, M.A. 1975. Breeding biology of the boreal chickadee. Wilson Bull. 87: 344-354. Ralph, J.C., J.R. Sauer, and S. Droege. 1995. Monitoring bird populations by point counts. Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-GTR-149. Albany, CA: USDA Pacific Southwest Research Station. 181 p. Saunders, A.A. 1914. The birds of Teton and northern Lewis & Clark counties, Montana. Condor 16:124-144. Sheldon, F. H., et al. 1992. DNA-DNA hybridization evidence of phylogenetic relationships among major lineages of PARUS. Auk 109:173-185. Sibley, D.A. 2000. The Sibley guide to birds. National Audubon Society and Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, NY. 544 pp. Skaar, P. D., D. L. Flath, and L. S. Thompson. 1985. Montana bird distribution. Montana Academy of Sciences Monograph 3(44): ii-69. Skaar, P.D. 1969. Birds of the Bozeman latilong: a compilation of data concerning the birds which occur between 45 and 46 N. latitude and 111 and 112 W. longitude, with current lists for Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, impinging Montana counties and Yellowstone National Park. Bozeman, MT. 132 p. Taylor, D.M. and C.H. Trost. 1987. The status of historically rare of unrecorded birds in Idaho. Unpublished manuscript. 68 p. Thompson, Richard W., Western Resource Dev. Corp., Boulder, CO., 1996, Wildlife baseline report for the Montana [Montanore] Project, Lincoln and Sanders counties, Montana. In Application for a Hard Rock Operating Permit and Proposed Plan of Operation, Montanore Project, Lincoln and Sanders Counties, Montana. Vol. 5. Stroiazzo, John. Noranda Minerals Corp., Libby, MT. Revised September 1996. U.S. Forest Service. 1991. Forest and rangeland birds of the United States: Natural history and habitat use. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Agricultural Handbook 688. 625 pages. Web Search Engines for Articles on "Boreal Chickadee"
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