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Species Guide
A photo of a Chestnut-backed Chickadee (Poecile rufescens)
Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Poecile rufescens

The Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Poecile rufescens, is a diminutive and sprightly bird, a member of the tit family, Paridae. It is easily recognized by its vibrant rufous-brown mantle and the contrasting dark blackish-brown head with its hallmark white cheeks. This species is often considered the most resplendent among chickadees.

Identification Tips

When observing these birds, look for a length of 11.5–12.5 cm and a weight range of 8.5–12.6 g. The wings are dark gray with paler fringes, and the underparts range from white to pale grayish-white. The flanks are either rufous or pale gray, varying by subspecies and location.


The Chestnut-backed Chickadee is a denizen of low elevation coniferous and mixed coniferous forests, where Douglas fir, western hemlock, and western redcedar dominate. These forests offer a cool and shaded environment, which is preferred by this species.


This bird is native to the Pacific Northwest of the United States and western Canada, with its range stretching from southeastern Alaska to southwestern California. It is a permanent resident within this range, though it may move short distances in search of food, often descending to lower elevations in winter.


These chickadees are known for their energy-conserving strategy of nocturnal hypothermia, which allows them to survive the harsh winters of their habitat. They are often seen in mixed feeding flocks, moving through the forest in search of sustenance.


Monogamous by nature, these chickadees can remain with a single partner for several years. They are cavity-nesters, often utilizing abandoned woodpecker holes or sometimes excavating their own. The female meticulously constructs the nest, which is composed of moss, tree bark, and a significant amount of fur and hair, particularly from deer, rabbits, and coyotes.

Similar Species

The Chestnut-backed Chickadee can be differentiated from other chickadees by its distinctive rufous coloring on the back and flanks, which varies among the subspecies.

Diet and Feeding

The diet consists mainly of insects and invertebrates gleaned from foliage, with a preference for those found on Douglas fir trees. They also consume seeds, plant matter, and fruit, and are known to frequent bird feeders, showing a particular fondness for suet.

Conservation status

The IUCN Red List currently classifies the Chestnut-backed Chickadee as Least Concern, indicating a stable population without significant threats at this time.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee Sounds

Recorded by: © 
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Chestnut-backed Chickadees on Birda


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