The mountain chickadee (Poecile gambeli) is distinguished from the other chickadees in North America by its white supercilium (eyebrow) composed of white-tipped feathers. This medium-sized chickadee can be found in the montane (mountainous) coniferous forests and mixed woodlands of western United States as high as 12,000 feet elevation. Nonmigratory, mountain chickadees will move to lower elevations in the winter where they join mixed flocks of black-capped chickadees, warblers, vireos, and other small passerines (perching songbirds).
Male, female and juvenile mountain chickadees have a black cap, white forehead that connects to the supercilium, a black bib, white cheeks and a dull white breast and belly. There are four subspecies of mountain chickadees in North America and one subspecies in Mexico with upper parts that can vary between gray, olive and brown, depending on the species. I always think of a grayish back when I think of a mountain chickadee.
An acrobatic feeder that never seems to sit still and often hangs upside down, mountain chickadees flit among outer twigs and leaves gleaning insects, spiders, the eggs of both, conifer seeds and berries. After the breeding season is past mountain chickadees will cache conifer seeds for the winter.
The species name honors William Gambel (1821 – 1849), an American naturalist who was the first trained scientist to spend extensive time in California collecting specimens (1841 – 1843).
These two mountain chickadees were photographed foraging on ponderosa pines (Pinus ponderosa) – one near the Merrill Campground at Eagle Lake (Lassen County CA) and the other near Manzanita Lake in Lassen Volcanic National Park. I love the way the chickadee in the face-on picture looks angry.