Carolina Chickadee: Nest and Eggs

Adult Carolina Chickadee. Photo: Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren

The Carolina chickadee is a bird of the eastern deciduous forests in the U.S. Carolina chickadees are ubiquitous and rather vocal at the suitable habitats, announcing their presence throughout the day. 

Like other chickadees, they establish and defend a breeding territory, but they form flocks composed of 2 to 8 chickadees during the winter months. Other winter resident birds may join these flocks. This article aims to help identify Carolina chickadee nests and eggs.

Carolina chickadee breeding facts

Breeding Period:Early April through July.
Nest type:Roundish with a cup 2 3/8-inches across and 1inch deep.
Substrate & Location:Nests are always built inside a cavity, usually 3-20 ft above the ground.
Nesting Activities:Both males and females excavate the cavity. The female alone builds the nest in 1 to 2 weeks.
Egg Description:White to creamy-white with reddish-brown dots concentrated on the broad side of the egg.
Egg Length and width:0.58 in x 0.49 in.
Egg-laying:It begins a day or two after nest completion. Female lays one egg every day.
Clutch size:Typically 6 eggs ranging between 5 to 8 eggs. 
Number of broods:Single brood per year.
Incubation Period:13 days on average, ranging between 12 to 15 days. 

 

Breeding range and habitat

Carolina chickadee breeding range. Based on allaboutbirds.org

The Carolina chickadee’s distribution range is the same as its breeding range as they stay in or near their breeding territories all year round. 

The Carolina chickadee is found as far west as Texas and Oklahoma. Its range narrowly overlaps with that of the closely related black-capped chickadee. 

The Carolina chickadee prefers deciduous woodlands and mixed deciduous forests. They may be found in open and semi-open woods, including suburban and urban areas. Carolina chickadees are familiar visitors at bird feeders. 

Migration and social behavior

Paired adult chickadees are year-round residents that stay in or near the breeding territories. Young birds tend to disperse from the natal territories. However, little is known about the distance they cover before they establish a new territory. 

Carolina chickadees form flocks during the winter months composed of mated pairs, unmated adults, and young individuals. Flocks maintain a hierarchy where one pair is dominant over single adults, which rank higher than juveniles. Several other winter resident birds join chickadee flocks. 

Breeding Period

Carolina chickadees nesting in a dumpster. Photo: Anette Hollis.

Breeding pairs remain together over multiple breeding seasons, perhaps for as long as both survive. 

During the winter months, mated chickadee pairs engage in occasional ritual displays in preparation for the upcoming spring and summer breeding season. Chickadees that are single tend to form breeding pairs while in the flock before the Spring.

Females begin laying eggs in late March and early April. The breeding season continues through mid-July, when most nestlings have fledged the nest and are about to become nutritionally independent.

Carolina chickadee nest appearance

Nests of Carolina chickadees vary in size and appearance. Chickadees fill nesting cavities with coarse nesting material based on the type and size of the cavity, resulting in a variety of nest shapes. 

Nest of a Carolina chickadee.

Typically Carolina chickadees use dry grasses, twigs, and rootlets mixed with wool, mammal fur, and a variable amount of moss around the nest cup. 

The cup is lined with hair, fur, and other fine fiber and is approximately 2 3/8 inches across and 1 inch deep.

Nests built in small cavities have only a cup to hold the eggs without the coarse nesting material.

Nesting habits

Carolina chickadee nest. Notice how much of the space has been filled with nesting material. Photo: Norma Johnson.

Carolina chickadees excavate their own cavities, usually in soft or rotten wood. They can also use abandoned woodpecker cavities or other natural cavities. Some pairs enhance existing cavities to fit their needs.

The male and female together inspect potential sites to excavate a cavity and existing nesting cavities. Carolina chickadees readily take nesting boxes. 

Both sexes excavate the cavity to a depth of about 5 inches. Cavities are typically located between 4 to 14 feet above the ground. 

Some pairs have nested in cavities in fence posts, particularly when suitable cavities or substrates to excavate new cavities are scarce. Excavating a cavity may take between 7 to 10 days. 

Nest building

While both sexes do most nesting activities together when it comes to building the nest, the female takes over and does it alone, taking her 1 to 2 weeks. The male may assist the female in bringing her food while she is diligently gathering nesting materials.

Egg appearance

The eggs are oval-round in shape with an approximate length of 0.58 inches and breadth of 0.49 inches. 

Eggs are white to creamy white with reddish-brown spots, concentrated towards the wider side of the egg. The density of spots on some eggs varies. 

Eggs of the Carolina chickadee.

Egg Laying

Egg-laying begins a day or two after the nest has been built, although the female may continue adding nesting material. The female lays 1 egg every day, usually in the morning. 

The female Carolina chickadees start laying eggs as early as the first week of April. The initiation of the egg-laying period varies with temperature. 

Clutch size

Female chickadee typically lays clutches of 6 eggs on average, with a range of 5 to 8 eggs. 

Incubation of the eggs

Carolina chickadee nesting in a natural cavity. Photo: Peter Lebengood.

Once the female starts laying eggs, she roosts inside the cavity but does not incubate until she lays the next-to-last egg. 

The female does all the incubation, day and night, and only takes breaks during the day for basic needs. While the female sits on the eggs, the male brings food and feeds her. The eggs are covered with nesting material when she leaves the nest. 

On days with warmer temperatures, females spend more time outside the nest than on colder days.

Incubation period

The female Carolina chickadee incubates the eggs for 13 days on average, with a range of 12 to 15 days.

References:

  • Albano, D. J. (1992). Nesting mortality of Carolina Chickadees breeding in natural cavities. Condor 94:371-382.
  • Baicich, P.J. and Harrison, C.J.O. (1997). A Guide to the Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds. Academic Press, San Diego, California.
  • Doherty, Jr., P. F. and J. M. Condit. (1994). Carolina Chickadee lays and incubates eggs in two separate nest cups within the same nest box. Wilson Bulletin 106:569-571.
  • Grubb, Jr., T. C. and C. L. Bronson. (1995). Artificial snags as nesting sites for chickadees. Condor 97:1067-1070.

2 thoughts on “Carolina Chickadee: Nest and Eggs”

  1. Marjkay52@gmail.com

    What kind of bird house can they use. We have crows in the spring and think there getting the eggs or little ones. Is this true so am looking for a better bird house as they don’t use mine.

    1. Hi Marjkay,

      It is unlikely that crows are getting the chickadees’ eggs as the entrance holes of the cavities chickadees use are very small and crows could not get to the eggs or nestlings.

      Perhaps the birdhouse design you are using is not the adequate one.

      Please follow this link to download the plan for a Carolina Chickadee birdhouse. Even if you don’t build the birdhouse, the plan will give you an idea about the specs for an ideal birdhouse for Carolina chickadees.

      https://nestwatch.org/learn/all-about-birdhouses/birds/carolina-chickadee/

      Regards,

      Al.

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