Bird #574 — Mexican Chickadee

poecile sclateri

Cochise County, Arizona — Coronado National Forest — Rustler Park

Friday, May 6, 2022 — 12:46 pm

The Mexican Chickadee looks and acts very much like other chickadees. It’s grayer, with no warm coloring and distinctly gray undersides. It’s widespread in Mexico but its range just creeps over the border into the United States in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona and at one local spot in New Mexico. It lives on mountain tops, so I had to drive to a much higher elevation to see it.

Rustler Park is a campground/picnic area in a pine grove that has been thinned out. The other three people I’d been birding with were walking through the grove near where I parked, so I headed off in another direction for maximum coverage. I kept my eye on my car because I hadn’t paid the $8 for the daily fee—all I had were $20s. I’d listened to a recording of the Mexican Chickadee on the way up, so I knew it had a harsher call than other chickadees I know. I was watching scattered warblers when I heard a repeated call from high in the trees that consisted of two harsh notes, followed by a softer, quieter note. It sounded like a chickadee with a sore throat. I soon spotted it and managed a lousy photo. I got the attention of the other birders and managed to show it to them. (I also found and showed them an Olive Warbler and a Townsend’s Warbler, along with the Red-faced Warbler and the Mexican Chickadee. They were very grateful and went away with a highly over-inflated sense of my birding prowess.)

The chickadee was easy to follow as long as it called, but it went silent for long periods during which we lost it in the pine branches high overhead. I saw it on two different occasions, about 10 minutes apart, and heard it again 10 minutes after the second sighting. It looked and behaved very much like any chickadee. Even in my poor, back-lit photos, you can see the large black bib and extensive gray on the sides and chest. I believe, when I first spotted it, that there were two in the tree.

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