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Boreal vs Black-Capped Chickadee: How to Tell the Difference

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Boreal Chickadee vs. Black-Capped Chickadee

Chickadees are tiny songbirds that belong to the titmouse family. Although there are many species of chickadees, the Boreal and Black-Capped Chickadees are some of the most common and cute. These species are often confused with one another because of their similar appearances.

Although it is easy to misidentify these small chickadees at first, there are some notable distinguishing factors between the Boreal Chickadee and the Black-Capped Chickadee. Keep reading to learn how to tell the difference between these two chickadees.hummingbird divider

Visual Differences

Boreal Chickadee vs. Black-Capped Chickadee
Image Credit: Left: (Boreal Chickadee) Romeo Andrei Cana, Shutterstock ; Right: (Black-Capped Chickadee) Jack Bulmer, Pixabay

At a Glance

Boreal Chickadee
  • Origin: Eurasia
  • Size: 5.0–5.5 inches
  • Lifespan: 2–3 years
  • Domesticated?: No
Black-Capped Chickadee
  • Origin: Eurasia
  • Size: 4–6 inches
  • Lifespan: 2–3 years
  • Domesticated?: No


Boreal Chickadee Overview

Boreal Chickadee
Image Credit: Matthew Jolley, Shutterstock

The Boreal Chickadee is a small songbird that is mainly found in the forests of Canada and the northernmost part of the United States. These birds are itty bitty and have a similar appearance to the Black-Capped Chickadee and the Mountain Chickadee.

Characteristics & Appearance

The Boreal Chickadee is tiny. It is smaller than a sparrow. Its body is husky and plump. To add to its plump appearance, the tail is very slim and not very long. Because of the small, round body of the Boreal Chickadee, this species is often met with admiration.

Although the size and shape of the Boreal Chickadee are cute, its color is more subtle. It classifies as a grayish brown bird. It has a rich brown cap with a black bib and a white cheek. It is primarily white below, but it has some pink or tan on the sides.

Boreal Chickadee Eating
Image Credit: C. Hamilton, Shutterstock


Because chickadees are songbirds, Boreal Chickadees sing quite a bit. Their small size allows them to forage agilely and restlessly. They often flit among the limbs and branches, almost in an acrobatic manner. Often, the birds will hover above their prey in the branches above.


Boreal Chickadees are almost exclusively found in mature spruce-fir forests. They are most common in the southern parts of Canada, but they are found in some northernmost states as well.

hummingbird divider Black-Capped Chickadee Overview

female Black capped Chickadee
Image By: elinorb, Shutterstock

The Black-Capped Chickadee is similar to the Boreal Chickadee in a number of ways, but its color is slightly different, as is its habitat. Despite the differences, Black-Capped Chickadees are just as cute and endearing as the Boreal variety.

Characteristics & Appearance

Black-Capped Chickadees are named after their appearance. This bird has a black bib and cap. Its cheeks are white, as are the edges of its wings and its underparts Its back is soft gray, and its wing feathers are a darker shade of grey. Although there are some shades of tan on the Black-Capped Chickadee, they are primarily black, white, and gray.

The size and shape of the Black-Capped Chickadee are the same as the Boreal. It is round and plump and smaller than a Sparrow. Some Black-Capped Chickadees are Larger than Boreal Chickadees, but the difference is minimal.

Black-capped Chickadee
Image Credit: Laura Ganz, Pexels


Black-Capped Chickadees are flittering creatures that fly around in acrobatic styles. They often hit feeders to get the food, but then they eat the seat elsewhere. You can often see them flying in open areas and across roads in a bouncy motion.


Black-Capped Chickadees can be found all throughout North America, though they are most common in the New England and Appalachian areas. The furthest south they go is New Mexico and Georgia. Occasionally, they can be found as far north as Alaska.

No matter where the Black-Capped Chickadees are located, they aren’t too picky about their homes. They are found practically anywhere that has trees and woody shrubs. As such, Black-Capped Chickadees have been found in forests, woodlots, neighborhoods, parks, fields, and marshes.

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What Are the Differences Between Boreal and Black-Capped Chickadees?

At first glance, it’s easy to confuse a Boreal Chickadee with a Black-Capped Chickadee. However, it’s easy to identify the two species whenever you consider their appearance and habitat.


Looking at the appearance or color of the bird is the easiest way to distinguish a Boreal from a Black-Capped Chickadee.

Boreal Chickadees have a brown cap and much browner on their bodies. If the bird has a lot of brown and tan colorations, you are most likely looking at a Boreal Chickadee.

Black-Capped Chickadees, in comparison, have a distinctive black cap. This black cap is the biggest determining factor between a Boreal and a Black-Capped Chickadee. If you see a chickadee with a black cap and minimal tan or brown colorations, it’s probably a Black-Capped Chickadee.

black capped chickadee
Image By: gregg williams, Shutterstock


Another way that you can tell the difference between a Boreal and a Black-Capped Chickadee is to consider the environment where the bird is located.

For starters, Black-Capped Chickadees are found much further South than Boreal Chickadees. If you are in mid or southern states, you are probably seeing a Black-Capped Chickadee because Boreal Chickadees are rarely found in these locations.

Additionally, the exact location where you see the chickadee can tell you a lot. If you see the chickadee in an area other than a mature forest, it’s probably a Black-Capped Chickadee. For example, it is probably a Black-Capped if the bird is around your home. Boreal Chickadees are almost exclusively found in spruce-fir forests.

Image Credit: Gagat55, Shutterstock

hummingbird divider Summing Up

Chickadees are downright adorable, and many people wonder if they can be kept as pets as a result. No matter how cute the Boreal Chickadee and Black-Capped Chickadee is, you should not get too close. These species are not domesticated, meaning they are only suited for the wild.

If you were to bring a chickadee in your home, it would most likely be scared of you and awfully unhappy. For this reason, you should not try to capture a Boreal or Black-Capped Chickadee.

Instead, leave the chickadee as it is and invest in a good pair of binoculars so you can observe the bird from a distance. Use these binoculars to determine if you are looking at a Boreal or Black-Capped Chickadee. Remember, Boreal Chickadees have brown caps and Black-Capped Chickadees have black caps.

See also:

Featured Image Credit: Left: (Boreal Chickadee) Canadian-Nature-Visions, Pixabay ; Right: (Black-Capped Chickadee) JackBulmer, Pixabay

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.