Family Tits and Chickadees (Paridae)

Least Concern

Chestnut-backed Chickadee (Poecile rufescens)


French: Mésange à dos marron German: Rotrückenmeise Spanish: Carbonero dorsicastaño

Parus rufescens

J. K. Townsend

, 1837,

forests of Columbia River, probably near Fort Vancouver, Washington, USA


Has been considered conspecific with P. cinctus and P. hudsonicus. Genetic study evidenced four main groupings (Queen Charlotte Is; C Alaska; SE British Columbia; and large coastal group) that do not accord with traditionally recognized subspecies#R. Nominate race and neglectus intergrade widely in area formerly occupied solely by latter, which may now be swamped by nominate. Proposed races ferrugineus (Sitka, Alaska), vivax (Prince William Sound) and levyi (Idaho) all included in nominate. Three subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • P. r. rufescens (J. K. Townsend, 1837) – Alaska, SW Canada and W USA (S to coastal N California).
  • P. r. neglectus (Ridgway, 1879) – coastal C California.
  • P. r. barlowi (Grinnell, 1900) – coast of SW California (S from San Francisco Bay).
  • Descriptive notes

    11·5–12·5 cm; 8·5–12·6 g. Small to medium-sized, black-capped and black-bibbed tit with chestnut upperparts. Nominate race has... read more


    Calls include frequently given “tsidi-tsidi-tsidi-cheer cheer” or “tsit ti jee... read more


    Dense conifer forests, including firs (Abies, Pseudotsuga), cedars (Thuja... read more

    Food and feeding

    Food includes small invertebrates and larvae, particularly moths (Lepidoptera), aphids (Aphidoidea), scale insects (Coccoidea), leafhoppers... read more


    Season mid-Mar to end Jun. Monogamous, apparently pairs for life; one documented case of partners remaining together for four consecutive... read more


    Largely resident; small numbers move altitudinally, including post-breeding dispersal to higher... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. In USA, common to locally common in S Alaska and S California, uncommon in Montana and Idaho; common in Canada. Some range expansion in 20th century... read more

    Recommended citation

    Gosler, A. & Clement, P. (2020). Chestnut-backed Chickadee (Poecile rufescens). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 26 February 2020).