Carolina Chickadee or Black-capped Chickadee?

Due to climate change, the range of the Black-capped Chickadee and Carolina Chickadee overlap.

I was uncertain about the identification of this bird, so I uploaded the image to ChatGPT, requesting identification.

Me: Please identify the bird in this photograph. Please describe the scene.
ChatGPT: This is a photograph of a Carolina Chickadee, identifiable by its black cap and bib, white cheeks, and soft grey back, wings, and tail. It is perched on a bare branch amidst a network of similar branches against a pale blue sky, likely in a deciduous woodland during the non-breeding season when trees are leafless.

For verification, I uploaded the same image to the Merlin ID app. Merlin also identified this bird as a Carolina Chickadee. However, after additional reading on All About Birds, I learned that this individual could be a Carolina or Black-capped Chickadee. They are very similar in colouring, and identification can be challenging. The calls of the Black-capped Chickadee are different from the Carolina Chickadee. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the presence of mind to use the Merlin app for an audio identification.

However, Merlin ID mentioned a 2014 study by Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Villanova University, and Cornell University that indicates that the hybrid zone between Black-capped and Carolina Chickadees is shifting northward in alignment with rising winter temperatures.

This is the first time I have heard and photographed a Chickadee. I heard this individual's distinctive call when I was outside, about to leave on a short walk. The bird was in a tall tree in the small wooded area between two streets near my home. Despite the challenges of backlighting, I enhanced some of its features using Adobe Lightroom, drawing out the finer details that aided in its accurate identification.

Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) · 30 December 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

Author: Khürt Williams

A human who works in information security and enjoys photography, Formula 1 and craft ale.

9 thoughts on “Carolina Chickadee or Black-capped Chickadee?”

  1. Some birds are making it really hard to identify. Here in Austin, I was talking to other photographers who said the titmice we see in our area are all hybrids, i.e., a mixture of tufted titmouse and black-capped titmouse. Your idea to check with AI is good. I liked your photos.

    1. I wish I had my Merlin app out to identify using the bird calls. It was in the pocket of my jeans but the XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR zoom lens is too heavy to handle with one hand. 🙂

      Interesting information about the titmouse. The Merlin ID app has identified the Tufted Titmouse bird calls from the woods beyond the backyard but I have yet to see one.

      1. Well, Khürt, I never think of Merlin. I guess I'm not a true birder. I used iNaturalist and Picture This a lot to identify plants and flowers. As for titmice, you just need to come to my backyard patio. Those cute birds devour the seeds I put for them. They are constantly coming and going. I never get tired of watching them.

  2. @khurtwilliams Ha! As soon as I saw the post title, I thought, nope, this one requires the song of the bird to identify just as you point out in the post. I learned that myself a couple years ago because I'd long thought I was seeing the Black Capped Chickadee until one day the Merlin app identified it as the Carolina by the song! Up to that point I was unaware that the Caroline Chickadee existed. The Merlin app has been the single best way for me to learn new bird song and identification. So great!

    1. I believe I have one. He is here everyday. Only 1. But lots of other birds in my yard in multiples. BB Woodpeckers. Doves. Pine Wablers. Etc. But he is always by himself

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