Alberta has four species of chickadees. The most common and abundant species, the Black-capped, is found across the entire province and is a faithful patron at backyard bird feeding stations. The less common and more habitat-specific species is the Boreal Chickadee. This brownish version of the Black-capped prefers coniferous-dominated woodlands so is seldom seen in open or prairie areas. The Mountain Chickadee is well named because its range is restricted to the mountains and foothills. It resembles the Black-capped but is easy to identify because it sports a distinctive white eyebrow. The fourth species, the Chestnut-backed, is a rarity in Alberta. A bird of the west coast, these buff-colored chickadees occasionally nest as far east as the Waterton area.
Imagine the surprise among the Alberta birding community when a Chestnut-backed Chickadee photo was posted on Facebook by Tom McDonald of Grande Cache in early January 2018. Up until that point, there were only 15 documented records of this species in the province. Then, on January 7th, three individuals were identified at the feeders of Stan and Keltie Masters near Water Valley. I was lucky enough to be able to see and photograph these birds (shown here).
The Masters live in a unique area of the province where all three "regular" species occur. What a thrill it was to see all four of Alberta’s chickadee species all at one feeding station.
Who knows where else these chickadees might show up, so be sure to keep an eye on the chickadees that come to your feeders.
The four species shown are Chestnut-backed (left) and (below) Black-capped, Boreal, Mountain Chickadee.