Many songbird species have evolved multiple vocalizations, or repertoires, that function to communicate various biological signals. More diverse repertoires may have evolved in response to the effects of seasonal variation in habitat structure on signal transmission. Such changes in habitat necessarily occur for migrating species, but they also occur for resident species that occupy deciduous forests. The black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) possesses a chick-a-dee call and a fee-bee song, but the closely related boreal chickadee (P. borealis) lacks a song. Consistent with the habitat variability hypothesis, the black-capped chickadee possesses a larger repertoire and primarily occupies deciduous forests, whereas the songless boreal chickadee occurs more often in coniferous forests. We explored the ecological basis of this hypothesis by recording audio playbacks of two species in two habitat types during two seasons. Specifically, we played both songs and calls of the black-capped chickadee and calls of the boreal chickadee in deciduous and coniferous habitats, prior to and after leaf-out. We measured attenuation and degradation in re-recorded vocalizations. For black-capped chickadees, the song was less degraded than the call in post-leaf, deciduous forests. The boreal chickadee call attenuated more quickly in all treatments, but maintained its acoustic structure better than both black-capped chickadee vocalizations in coniferous forests. Our results support the hypothesis that variable habitats provided a seasonal transmission benefit for both song and call in the black-capped chickadee, but that the transmission benefit of song is lost in the less variant coniferous forests, which may underlie the absence of a song in the boreal chickadee.