This small active chickadee is about 5 to 6 inches in length and occurs throughout coniferous forests in New Mexico’s central mountain chain and in mountains of the western part of the state. It also may be found in deciduous groves in the coniferous forest zone. The range extends throughout the mountains of the western U.S. and up into western Canada. The white stripe above the eye distinguishes this bird from the solid black cap of the black-capped chickadee which is an occasional resident in New Mexico’s northern mountains. A black bib covers the neck and the belly is white and the back uniformly gray.
Mountain chickadees forage in trees and shrubs for caterpillars, beetles, wasps, and other insects, as well as spiders and seeds. They are often seen hanging upside down while foraging and will visit bird feeders.
These birds nest in natural dens and woodpecker holes, which they may work on to enlarge. They will also use nest boxes. The male will bring food to the female on the nest and later both parents will feed the juveniles.
Mountain chickadees will create food stores when they encounter abundant sources, such as at a feeder or during an infestation of pine bark beetles. A chickadee has been found in studies of energetics to require about 10 calories per day, which corresponds to about 1/3 of an ounce of insects or about 1/20 ounce of pine seeds.
The Audubon Society lists the current status of mountain chickadees as stable, with habitat losses expected around the periphery of the range as the climate warms in the future. Wildfires destroy coniferous forests and increasing spring heat is detrimental to young nestlings. The oldest chickadee recorded in the wild was a 10 year old in Utah.
Photos taken by James Taulman in the Cibola National Forest, using Nikon P 900 camera.