Chickadees like open wood and deciduous forests. They thrive in backyards, cottonwood groves and willow thickets. In harsh winter weather, small flocks of black-capped chickadees are sometimes seen in dense pine forests.
Black-capped chickadees can be found across North America, ranging from Alaska through eastern Canada, and spreading southward into the northern parts of the United States. The southern border of their range is slowly creeping north as the climate warms.
Black-capped chickadees produce a dazzling array of calls. Adults can make as many as 16 different calls, all with different meanings. The call for which they are named in English — "chick-a-dee-dee-dee" — is far more complex than it sounds, with information encoded in each note. Generally the more “dees” that ring out, the greater the threat a predator poses. They also sing a highly recognizable "fee-bee" song. They sing more in the spring than in any other time of year.
Other species of songbirds, especially migrants moving through an area, tend to tag along with chickadee flocks. They listen for the chickadee feeding calls to find food and for chickadee alarm calls to keep them safe.
Chickadees love bird feeders, especially ones with sunflower seeds, suet and peanuts. However, more than half of their food throughout the year consists of insects, spiders, caterpillars, larvae and insect eggs. They have even been known to scavenge on dead deer, skunks and fish. They also eat vegetation, including berries and seeds.
Chickadees hide huge amounts of food for the winter months—in the fall they can store up to 1,000 seeds a day or 80,000 seeds a season, jamming them anywhere they can fit. To keep track of all these seeds, they can replace old neurons with new ones, overwriting old memories with new ones. A chickadee’s hippocampus—the part of its brain responsible for spatial memory—is larger in chickadees that live in places with colder, harsher weather. The hippocampus actually shrinks in the spring when food is easily available and grows again when it’s time to survive the winter.