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Comparing Chickadee Calls

Learn to identify chickadees by ear!

In the Pacific Northwest, you might see both Black-capped and Chestnut-backed Chickadees at your birdfeeder. The Chestnut-back (seen here) sounds different from the Black-capped Chickadee. The call of the Black-capped follows the familiar “Chick-a-dee, dee, dee” pattern. But the call of the Chestnut-back is higher pitched, faster, and has a buzzy quality. While we delight in their music, the birds are engaged in more serious business — they’re keeping their flock together.

Listen to the calls of all 7 North American chickadees.

Full Transcript


Comparing Chickadee Calls
Written by Frances Wood

This is BirdNote!

[Call of Black-capped Chickadee]

You can see lots of dapper black-and-white chickadees this time of year. And knowing their calls will help you identify the different species. For example, if you live in the Pacific Northwest, when a Black-capped Chickadee visits your feeder, you may find its cousin, the Chestnut-backed Chickadee, tagging along. [Chestnut-backed Chickadee - zitta-zitta-zee call]

This bird has a similar black head with a large white cheek-patch, but its back and sides are a rich chestnut brown. Its call is slightly different as well.

See if you can tell the calls apart. I’ll give you a hint. The call of the Black-capped Chickadee follows the familiar “Chick-a-dee, dee, dee” pattern. [Call of Black-capped Chickadee] 

Now listen to the Chestnut-backed call. It’s higher pitched, faster, and has a buzzy quality. [Call of Chestnut-backed Chickadee]

Once again, the Black-capped Chickadee. [Black-capped] Now the Chestnut-backed chickadee. [Chestnut-backed]

A good birdwatcher can identify a bird by its call alone. This skill is handy when you see these little birds high in the trees, dangling off branches. But while we delight in their musical talents, the birds are engaged in more serious business — they’re keeping their flock together. [Repeat Call of Chestnut-backed Chickadee]

Hear the calls of all seven species of chickadees, at our website, I’m Mary McCann.


Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Ambient track of Black-capped Chickadee recorded by R.S. Little.
Sounds of the Chestnut-backed Chickadee provided by: Martyn Stewart at
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson

© 2016 Tune In to    January 2014/2018/2019  Narrator: Mary McCann

ID # 010406CBCHKPLU     BCCHCBCH-01b-2010-01-30   BCCH-CBCH-01c

Sights & Sounds

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