Chestnut-Backed Chickadee

Range Map
Poecile rufescens

Chestnut-Backed Chickadees are specialists of the Pacific Northwest. Their range extends north into southeastern Alaska and south to coastal central California. To a lesser extent, they also live in the northern Rocky Mountains from eastern British Columbia and south through northern Idaho and northeastern Oregon. I toured these areas extensively for decades and failed to find them.

In 2022, I embarked on an epic expedition that spanned seven months and stretched over 15,000 miles. I made it a point to meet several species I’d missed during previous trips through the region. Chestnut-Backed Chickadees were on my list. I stopped at Morro Bay on the Central California coast; a location I’d visited many times in the past to enjoy shorebirds and Sea Otters. On this visit, my radar was attuned to these chickadees, and I found them rather quickly, once I discovered their playground on the opposite side of town from the Sea Otters.

As I continued following the Pacific Coast, I enjoyed their company further north in California and Oregon. After turning east from the northern reaches of Washington State, I even met their inland population north of the Wallowa Mountains in northeastern Oregon.

Taxonomists recognize three subspecies of Chestnut-Backed Chickadee.

  • P. r. rufescens lives in Alaska, southwestern Canada and western USA, including coastal N California.
  • P. r. neglectus lives in coastal central California.
  • P. r. barlowi lives on the coast of southwestern California south of San Francisco Bay.

Unlike its other chickadee cousins, their songs lack the sweetly whistled “Hey Sweety” sound, and sometimes their calls sound more gurgled than chittered.

16 Photos

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