Boreal Chickadee (Poecile hudsonicus)

Photo by Tom PrestbyBoreal Chickadee by Tom PrestbyBoreal Chickadee distribution map


Population Information

Federal BBS information can be obtained at by clicking on Trend Estimates and selecting the species in question. All estimates are for 1966-2005.

*Note: There are important deficiencies with these data. These results may be compromised by small sample size, low relative abundance on survey route, imprecise trends, and/or missing data. Caution should be used when evaluating this trend.

Life History

Habitat Selection

The Boreal Chickadee is a permanent resident of both young and mature coniferous forests, and in Wisconsin occurs in boreal forests and lowland conifer habitats dominated by black spruce and tamarack (Merkel 2006). The presence of softwood tree species may be a more important habitat variable than tree size (Warren et. al 2005) or stand age (Hagan et al. 1997). In northern Maine, Boreal Chickadees were equally abundant in medium-aged (20-60 yr old) and mature (60+ yr old) softwood stands (Hagan et al. 1997). The Boreal Chickadees is a cavity nester that will excavate its own cavity or use either natural or woodpecker-excavated cavities in dead tree stumps, snags, or dead branches. There is no evidence of preference for a particular tree species; rather softness of heartwood seems to be more important (Ficken et al. 1996).  

Habitat Availability

The coniferous lowland forests used by Boreal Chickadees were widespread and relatively common historically, although they did not typically occur in large patches in Wisconsin. These forest types remain relatively common in much of their Wisconsin range today (WDNR 2005). Within the Great Lakes region, however, black spruce and other coniferous lowland forest types may have declined by as much as 15% (Snetsinger and Ventura n.d.). Wisconsin lies well outside the boreal forest biome, but harbored some “boreal-like” tracts prior to European settlement. These boreal forest stands have experienced significant alteration and loss in the past century (Mossman et al. 1990).

Population Concerns

Breeding Bird Survey data suggest significant population declines range-wide for this species (Sauer et al. 2005). Due to the rarity of the Boreal Chickadee in Wisconsin, it is not sufficiently known whether the population here is stable. This species is rarely recorded on either the Wisconsin routes of the Breeding Bird Survey or the Wisconsin Checklist Project (Temple et al. 1997, Sauer et al. 2005). During the six-year  period (1995-2000) of the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas, observers reported 15 breeding confirmations primarily in Florence, Forest, Oneida, and Vilas counties (Merkel 2006).

In Wisconsin loss and fragmentation of coniferous wetlands and spruce-fir forests is a concern. Road construction, agriculture, and development can alter hydrology to the detriment of these community types (WDNR 2005). In other areas of this species’ range, salvage logging during spruce budworm outbreaks allegedly reduced suitable habitat (Ficken et al. 1996).

Recommended Management

Management efforts for this species should focus on maintaining coniferous landscapes with large areas of lowland coniferous forests. Whenever feasible, utilize alternative silvicultural methods to increase boreal components in appropriate areas (e.g., allow succession of aspen to conifers) (WDNR 2005). Management practices that retain trees with nest cavities and/or retain snags and stumps in harvested areas would likely benefit this species. Conservation and management strategies for this species should be focused in the following Wisconsin ecological landscapes: North Central Forest, Northeast Sands, Northern Highland, Northwest Lowlands, and Northwest Sands (WDNR 2005). Within these landscapes, the best public lands to manage for Boreal Chickadee include Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest and large peatlands on Douglas, Iron, Vilas, Lincoln, and Langlade County Forests. 

Research Needs

More research is needed regarding the behavioral, physiological, and morphological adaptations that allow Boreal Chickadees to survive in harsh winter conditions (Ficken et al. 1996). Future monitoring efforts in Wisconsin should focus on identifying suitable habitat statewide and conducting focused surveys to determine the population status for this species. Continued research on boreal forest bird communities in general is needed to reveal more aspects of this and other species’ ecology and response to forest management in Wisconsin. 

Information Sources


Contact Information

Kreitinger, K., Y. Steele and A. Paulios, editors. 2013.
The Wisconsin All-bird Conservation Plan, Version 2.0. Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Madison, WI.

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