The chickadees and titmice of North America belong to a small family (Paridae) that doesn’t have too many North American species. The Paridae, unlike say warblers, sparrows or woodpeckers, seldom have many members of the family present in the same habitat and locations. In southern California, we typically only have one chickadee and one titmouse species in any given area, and some areas have none, since they are generally forest or edge habitat specialists. In southern California, the chickadees are typically much less widespread than the titmice. For chickadees, there are really only two: the Chestnut-backed Chickadee (Poecile rufescens), and the Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli). The Chestnut-backed Chickadee is a west coast special, where it is mostly confined to the coastal plain from the middle of California up to southern Alaska. In northeastern Oregon, eastern Washington, northern Idaho and southeastern British Columbia, there is a discontinuous range segment more inland. There are three recognized races of Chestnut-backed Chickadee, with the central California race having the least color, showing little to no rufous wash along the flanks. We found this bird among a group of 3-4 at Douglas Family Park on the bluffs above Santa Barbara, the furthest south we’ve ever observed this species.
Mountain Chickadees have a much broader distribution, ranging from the Davis Mountains in west Texas across nearly to the coastal plain in San Diego County, and covering large portions of New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, western Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, nearly all of Idaho, extreme southwestern Alberta and most of British Columbia, wherever there is significant elevation. Here in Orange County, we’ve observed a dramatic extension of range to lower elevations in the county, with several bands of birds apparently breeding at nearby Serrano Creek, which is well below 2000 feet in elevation. This particular individual was photographed at a more typical location and habitat, at over 7000 feet along the Angeles Crest Highway.
These photos were taken with a Canon EOS T3 Rebel camera using a 100-400 mm IS zoom lens.