Chickadee Nest

Last week several families of chickadees fledged in Schenley Park.  Because they keep their nests well hidden, I had no idea so many chickadees were nesting until I encountered hotspots of begging babies on my walks to work.

What does a chickadee nest look like?  Marcy Cunkelman sent me photos of one in her yard.

Chickadees build their nests in cavities using old woodpecker holes, birdhouses, or holes they excavate for themselves in soft rotting wood.  It takes a pair of chickadees 7-10 days to excavate a new hole 5" deep.  While digging they carry the chips away from the site.  Marcy's chickadees saved a lot of time and trouble by using the PVC-pipe birdhouse she provided.


When the hole is complete, the female spends 3-4 days lining it with wool, hair, fur, moss, feathers, fuzzy insect cocoons, and cottony fibers(*).  Then she lays 5-10 eggs.  Marcy's chickadee laid six.

The eggs are 15.2 x 12.2 mm -- smaller than a dime!  The female begins incubation after laying the next-to-last egg and incubates them alone until they hatch in 12-13 days.  Her mate feeds her on the nest so she doesn't have to leave the eggs.


When the eggs hatch the babies are naked and sightless but soon begin to grow feathers as shown below.  At this stage their big wide mouths are their most noticeable feature.  The babies keep their parents busy filling those mouths.


At 12 days old, the babies look like chickadees and are the same size as the adults.  They can fledge at this age if the nest is attacked but will wait until they're 16 days old if the nest is safe. Here the six babies are just a little too young to fledge.  They already look like chickadees.  Very cute!

Normally the entire brood fledges within 24 hours.  Marcy says hers fledged while she was out for the day.

Chickadees usually raise only one brood per year so this pair is done for now -- except that they have a big job ahead of them. They have to teach six juveniles how to stay safe.


(photos by Marcy Cunkelman.  (*) Information from the Petersen Field Guide to Birds' Nests by Hal H. Harrison)

p.s.  Black-capped and Carolina chickadees have mostly separate ranges (north and south) but on the chickadee border they hybridize.  Marcy's house is on the chickadee border so she can't say for sure which species nests here.

33 thoughts on “Chickadee Nest

  1. Love the chickadees–such sweet little birds–actually had one eat from my hand. A few years back, I had a family in my birdhouse. Was so excited; but, the following year, some wrens were so aggressive that the chickadees were having a difficult time trying to make a nest–they put up a good fight, tho. This went on for a week, or so. The birdhouse was right outside of my kitchen window. I hung another house on the opposite side of the garage, but that didn’t change anything. Finally, decided to just take down the houses (of course, there weren’t any eggs). I didn’t know the wrens were such aggressive little birds.

  2. I had a chickadee nest in an old apple tree in my yard this spring. They were starting to bring food to the nest, so I assume that the eggs had hatched. But the house wrens returned and within a few days, I saw chickadees looking in the cavity but not going in. The male started singing again (singing both the Carolina and the Black-capped songs). House wrens just do not tolerate any other cavity nesters nearby. This happened years ago to a pair of titmice that nested in my yard.

  3. We put up a wren house recently (earlier than normal) and just noticed this am that a black capped chickadee has been investigating the house going in and out. I would much rather have them nesting than the wren. I’m afraid if the chickadees nest there that when the wren returns later this spring they will destroy the nest.

    1. Paula, that’s a possibility. In Pittsburgh the house wrens aren’t back yet … but they will arrive soon.

  4. Put wren guards on houses! There’s nothing sadder than finding a destroyed chickadee nest. Also you can attach a predator hole protector!

  5. Hi there- we have been hearing a pecking sound outside if our bedroom window. I went to investigate today only to find this dear bird under my window working diligently to make the opening larger. We knew some of the wood had rotted during the winter but apparently someone has or will be laying eggs. How long should we wait before repairing the area? We want to be sure that the eggs have hatched and the family is gone. Any advice is appreciated.
    Thank you.

    1. Maura, the bird is probably a woodpecker. It may be pecking to get bugs out of the wood or it may be making a nest. The amount of time to wait until the baby birds fly depends on the species of woodpecker. If you live in southwestern Pennsylvania here are a few woodpecker species that might with the following wait times:
      Northern Flicker: 12 days until the eggs hatch, then 24-27 more days until the baby birds fly = 36-39 days
      Red-bellied Woodpecker: 12 days until the eggs hatch, then 24-27 more days until the baby birds fly = 36-39 days
      Downy Woodpecker: 12 days until the eggs hatch, then 18-21 more days until the baby birds fly = 30-33 days
      Hairy Woodpecker: 12-15 days until the eggs hatch, 28-30 days more days until the baby birds fly = 30-45 days (more study needed on this species)
      Pileated woodpecker: This is a very large woodpecker, the size of a crow, and would have startled you by its size so I doubt this is the one hammering on your house. … It has a much longer nesting duration because it is such a large bird.
      If you don’t live in southwestern PA and would like to know more about woodpeckers in your area, please leave a comment with your location.

  6. The chickadees fledged from our bird box yesterday. Unfortunately we were not here to see it. However a youngster sat on the railing beside me in the evening sun. Very special moment for me.
    Will the nest be used again? Or should we clean it out now?
    (Nuthatches nested and fledged from the other birdbox- they keep coming back to visit the house. )
    Should we leave the nests or clean them out? And should we wait until autumn?

    1. Kathleen, here are some answers to your questions about chickadee nests. These answers come from Cornell Lab’s Birds of North America Online and apply to black-capped chickadees.

      “Reuse of Nest: Rare, except where alternative sites unavailable. When old cavities are reused, clutch size is larger and laying date is earlier. If a nest is lost to predation, typically replacement nest is some distance away. Distance between nests in subsequent years is usually further than 60 m. When reusing an old nest, or using the nest of another species (such as Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus) birds will further excavate the bottom of the nest cavity.”

      Artificial nest sites: “Chickadees prefer artificial nest snags to nest boxes, but for both types of artificial nest, use increases if cavity is filled with wood shavings.”

      Wild Birds Unimited’s Blog says this about cleaning out the nests:

  7. Our landscapers found a nest of chickadees while cutting down a dead tree in our yard. We were able to save the five babies, and placed them in a grass-filled container at the base of the former tree site. There was no nest since they were using the cavity of the tree trunk. I’m guessing they were 3-4 days old. Once the parents saw that they were safe, we moved the container to an overgrown honeysuckle vine immediately next to the tree site, hiding them from predators the best we could. We were able to watch the parents (from a window) swooping in and out of the container for two days. On the third day, the container was still in place but empty. Is it possible the parents were able to move them to another location? We don’t see any evidence of them anywhere, alive or dead, and the container was still intact with the grass still in place, and the one unhatched egg still inside. This leaves me to believe they weren’t consumed by predators, but seeing the size of the babies, I can’t imagine the parents would be able to lift them. We’re so worried about our little babies. 🙁

    1. Sheri, the parents cannot carry their young. Alas, the situation you describe sounds like a predator found them.

  8. My dogs found a nest, is there anything I can do to protect the nest from them. One baby fell out but I put it back in. Would hate to see it happen again.

  9. OK so the birds keep pushing the babies out of the nest so what I did was took a bucket with a towel and a nesting in there and placed it by the old nest the parents are flying around it will they find it ? I want to be able to move it so that way my dogs can’t get it

    1. Jeanette, the parents can find it. If it’s chickadees, they expect the nest to be covered (in a box or hollow tree) so may be confused by an open top bucket.

    2. I have placed the bucket closers to the hole in the tree, and I have seen them go nine and out. What can I do for a more permanent place? So if I place it away from the old spot they will find their babies?

  10. Last weekend we had 2 chickadees hollowing out a nest in a tree stump on our campground site in Carver, MA. This weekend we saw they have 4 eggs (Sunday) in the nest. Not sure if momma will lay anymore this week while we are gone, but will see on Friday when we return. We should be able to figure out when they will hatch based on the number of eggs on Friday I hope. After they hatch and fledge, will the parents stay at the nest? We want to keep tabs on our little feathered friends. Should I put out suet cakes near the nesting area?

    1. After the eggs hatch the parents will be very busy feeding the young in the nest. After the young fly the family will stay nearby for a few days and then explore further. Chickadees don’t migrate so the parents will be nearby for as long as they live.
      Meanwhile, suet might be nice but it could attract mammals which would then discover & eat the chickadees’ babies. The parent chickadees picked that site because they think there’s already enough food. So in my view suet isn’t necessary.

  11. Has anyone had a Blackcapped chickadee build her nest on the ground? I discovered a nest with four eggs while weeding in my perrenial flowerbed. All four eggs have hatched and are babies are four days old now. We’ve had chickadees in our apple tree holes and garage soffits but never on the ground….It seems so dangerous….we have Eagles and Hawks on a daily basis. They’re under a large Azaela shrub and well hidden by flowers, but extremely vulnerable .

  12. Have not seen chickadees at the bluebird box for weeks, so just now looked inside. 5 babies with mouths wide open surprised me!! I watched on and off for an hour from inside the house – no adult birds in sight. Would the eggs hatch and the parents abandon nest?

    I watch the next box daily from our porch. where we eat meals, and from the kitchen window. where I do dishes, prepare food, etc. So I see the box frequently throughout the day. In the spring there was lots of daily activity as they built their nest in this bluebird box. Is there a certain time of day that they bring food to their young?

    1. Ginger, wait and watch. If the parents saw you at the box they will wait until the coast is clear.

    2. OK, but I have seen no adult birds for weeks now. O winder if they met their demise somehow?

    3. The babies have to eat several times an hour. They would not be alive at all if their parents had been gone for weeks. Nesting birds are very secretive. Since these are alive, it’s best to leave them alone and stay away.

  13. We have lived in our house for 11 years now. There is a birdhouse attached to the house outside our kitchen window. No birds have ever nested in it while we have lived here until this year when chickadees took it up a few weeks ago. We have watched in awe as every day from dawn to dusk the parents fly in & out catching worms, etc & to feed the chicks. Today I saw one leave the nest & begin flying from tree to tree around our back yard. So adorable! I have been out for a few hours this afternoon & all seems quiet in the birdhouse since my return. I hope they all made it!

  14. We had a chickadee nest in our birdhouse on the balcony. It was fun watching the parents fly back and forth to feed the young. They even ate out of our hands. After the fledglings left the nest we only saw them for one more day and they were gone. Really miss them!

  15. I had a chickadee mother build her nest in my porch eves in view of my TV chair and got to watch the whole brooding period up until this afternoon. I am in Western Maine and they were NOT black capped chickadees so perhaps Carolina? There were four eggs and four nestlings grew to maturity.

    For the last two or three days some of the nestling/fledglings would hop along the eve and flutter into the air but then return to the nest. Today one flew to the next eve, looked forlorn and fluttered back to the nest eve and back into the nest. I have seen 3 Robin broods fledge to the porch floor (usually one at a time over two or three days and then hop to the treeline). I was waiting for the same thing from the chickadees but they seemed about two or three days late on fledging. Two were out of the nest several times today but would hop back in and nap.

    Finally, in the time it took to turn on the AC and use the restroom I came back into the livingroom to find all four fledglings gone. The parents were missing for a period of time but other birds were out so I don’t think there was some kind of hawk tragedy (like one that happened to the Robin brood last year). Then I saw one of the parents on the electrical service lines where they would sit and scope out the area in view of their nest during the brooding period so i’m assuming everything is going to plan.

    My question, not having seen chickadees fledge like the robins, is would a parent lead the four out in one group? There wasn’t even enough time for the four to fledge one after the other so I’m thinking they flew off together. I didn’t see anything on the lawn but the distance to the treeline is only about 20 feet. I know with the robins that I won’t see the juveniles (until a month later when I spotted 2 out of the 3 with a parent one the electrical lines over several days, then not since then) but the parents would come and go from the electrical lines. The mother robin is on her third brood right now in the same nest from last year. Anyone out there have any thoughts about this chickadee brood?

    jim d.

    1. Jim D., Robin nests are too small to hold all of the fully grown nestlings so they are crowded out of it and ‘fall’ out of the nest to walk around before they fly. (Seems dangerous to me but it’s what Robbins do.) As you have seen, chickadees use a different technique. Their nests are big enough to hold every one.

      I have never seen chickadees fledge but it is possible the parents led them to safety or to food. When the young are hungry they follow their parents.

  16. that’s what I was hoping to see, as what I find fascinating is how much parenting goes on with these birds. in both cases (robins and chickadees) the parents would come and go with food and pass each other at the nest.

    I know the fledglings will follow their parents because I did see the last of four robin fledglings perched on the nest looking scared and lonely. finally the adult came to led it to the porch floor and then into the yard. with the chickadees i’ll just have to remember it that way.

    jim d.

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