all photos & text by Don Roberson
MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE Poecile gambeli
all photos taken in California
The MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE is a common resident of coniferous forests
throughout the higher mountains of California. There is some downslope
movement in harsh winters but many individuals appear to remain among the
snow-covered pines and firs year-round. I rather like this shot taken in
mid-winter east of the Sierra.
||19 Feb 1991 near Crowley Lake MNO
My most exciting experience with this species was
their rediscovery as nesting in Monterey County in 1991 after an absence
of 30 years. I found a family group (one worn adult with two obviously
fresh juvenals) and another bird calling on a ridge dominated by Sugar
Pines (Ponderosa and Coulter pines also present) 4800' elevation.
Juvenal-plumaged birds were collected south of Cone
Peak and on Santa Lucia Peak (just to the east across a valley) in 1909-1937.
This small population was present until at least 1960 when Vern Yadon had
birds below Cone Peak. But thereafter none could be found, despite efforts
for the Breeding Bird Atlas, and I visited this area twice before the rediscovery.
We speculated that the species might have been extirpated by the Marble
Cone fire in 1977 that burned huge swaths of this area, including the lower
reaches of this same ridge. In other portions of the birds range, such
as the Davis Mtns., Texas, where birds were abundant in 1900 but gone by
1940 (Oberholser, 1974, Bird Life of Texas), the mysterious loss of the
species has been attributed to general long-term climatic changes (global
We may never know the full story here, but it is
at least possible that the small population was indeed wiped out by the
Marble Cone fire but the species has recolonized sometime in the past 14
years. The nearest resident birds are in the San Rafael Mtns. of Santa
Barbara Co. (sev. peaks over 6500') with the nearest population being on
Figuera Mt. (4528'; Lehman, 1982, Status and distribution of birds in Santa
Barbara Co.). There are no records of the species in San Luis Obispo Co.
(Marantz, 1986, The birds of San Luis Obispo County). On the other hand,
the population may be so small that they were overlooked until the summer
The only California records are listed below are (1) my personal "state
bird" and (2) those with unusual dates or locales. All my other observations
are well within normal status & distributional limits. Those preceded
by Hwere vagrants
found or co-found by me personally. Within these parameters, these are
my personal Mountain Chickadee records of interest:
8/1/70 Pinecrest camp ED
my state bird
See the family page for county abbreviations. All photos & text ©
2001 Don Roberson; all rights reserved.
ridge NE of Cone Peak MTY family group (this discovery
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to use the records cited herein.
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