- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A regular, permanent resident and winter visitant outside its normal range in more southerly areas of Minnesota. The Boreal Chickadee was uncommon during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
This species is found throughout the boreal forest of Canada and Alaska, the northern portions of the Upper Midwest, and the northeastern United States. Densities observed were highest in Labrador; high densities may also occur in northern regions of Canada and in Alaska, but they are not well surveyed (Figure 1).
Assigned a Continental Concern Score of 9/20 by Partners in Flight; listed as a Species in Greatest Conservation Need by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Permanent resident; periodic irruptions south of its primary range occasionally occur.
Omnivore; largely arthropods, seeds, and berries gleaned from foliage.
Cavity nester in trees; often self-excavates in a natural cavity but occasionally uses a hole excavated by another species, primarily woodpeckers.
Roberts (1932) included a relatively lengthy discussion on the historical status and nesting of the Boreal Chickadee in Minnesota from the late 19th century to the early 20th century. He summarized that “the records for Minnesota are not very numerous and many observers who have passed much time in the field in the northern part of the state have not met with it.” A specific comment by Roberts on its status in the extreme northern part of the state east of Ely, Minnesota, included the following: “Mr. Breckenridge, while spending nearly three weeks in May 1931; some eighteen miles east of Winton, in northern St. Louis County, found the Hudsonian Chickadee as common as the Black-capped Chickadee.” In general, he concluded that this species was a “rather uncommon permanent resident in the extreme northern part of Minnesota.”
At the time of his treatise The Birds of Minnesota in 1932, Roberts reported that Rev. P. B. Peabody was the only individual fortunate enough to find a Boreal Chickadee nest, which he located near Hibbing in St. Louis County on May 24, 1901. Roberts described observations by two of his colleagues, “Kilgore and Breckenridge,” of adults feeding young out of a nest at Big Sandy Lake, Aitkin County, on June 30, 1929. He cited observations by Gustave Swanson in a locality not far north of Deer River, Itasca County, where two adults were carrying food and later, at the same locality, a young bird was being fed by the parents.
More than 40 years later, Green and Janssen (1975) described the Boreal Chickadee distribution as primarily in northeastern and northern Minnesota. They included confirmed nesting in Lake County and St. Louis County. Later, Axelrod (1979), a student at the University of Minnesota, exquisitely described details of a Boreal Chickadee nest found by Bruce Fall in 1977 at La Salle Creek Bog in Hubbard County. Janssen (1987) suggested a more restricted distribution from that defined by Green and Janssen, which largely eliminated Cass County. Both Janssen (1987) and Hertzel and Janssen (1998) summarized confirmed nesting since 1970 in 7 counties: Aitkin, Beltrami, Clearwater, Cook, Hubbard, Lake, and St. Louis.
The Minnesota Biological Survey (MBS) included 74 records of breeding season locations, which were broadly distributed from Itasca County to Cook County (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2016). The MBS listed multiple locations in Cook, Lake, Itasca, and St. Louis Counties as well as 2 in northern Aitkin County and 1 in northern Carlton County. As of 2016, the MBS had not yet reported surveys in northern Beltrami, Koochiching, or Lake of the Woods Counties.
The MNBBA included 219 records of the Boreal Chickadee. The records encompassed a distribution similar to what was described by Janssen (1987), from Cook County to Roseau County and south to Aitkin County (Figure 2). No observations of the species were recorded from Carlton, Clearwater, or Hubbard Counties, but confirmed nesting was reported from Lake of the Woods and Koochiching Counties. (Figure 3; Table 1). Boreal Chickadees were reported from 3.0% (141/4,733) of all blocks sampled and 3.2% (75/2,337) of priority blocks. Probable nesting was recorded from 23 blocks as far west as Roseau and Beltrami Counties and south to northern Aitkin County.
The probability map based on the MNBBA point counts identified low densities for the Boreal Chickadee throughout much of northeastern Minnesota and in the Northern Minnesota and Ontario Peatlands Section north and east of Upper Red Lake (Figure 4)
Overall, the Boreal Chickadee is a regular nesting species throughout many northern and northeastern counties in Minnesota. However, it’s relatively low abundance, its remote forested habitats, and its lack of a territorial “advertising” song during the breeding season all make it difficult to observe the species on the breeding grounds, let alone to find nests.
Ficken et al. (1996), in their review of the Boreal Chickadee in North America, do not identify any information on historical changes in its distribution. Breeding bird atlas data in Michigan, Ontario, and Wisconsin indicate there has been little change in the historical distribution of this species (Cadman et al. 2007; Cutright et al. 2006; Chartier et al. 2013). However, historical data on the species are lacking from the 19th century and even the early to mid-20th century. For instance, the first nest in Michigan was not found until 1954, and the first nest in Wisconsin was found in 1959. Ficken et al. (1996) pointed out that in the Adirondack Mountains, Boreal Chickadees were rare until the late 1960s, when the population began to increase. They attributed the recovery of the population to reforestation in that region.
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.