This week’s featured bird is a very exciting one for me, and for many birders. With a bird this energetic and personable, there’s a lot to be excited about with the tufted titmouse!
Name: Tufted Titmouse
Scientific Name: Baeolophus bicolor
Scientific Family: Paridae (Tits and Chickadees)
Habitat: These birds prefer woodland and forest habitats, but stay below 2,000 feet elevation and so are not often found in higher mountain regions. They can enjoy both deciduous and evergreen trees, and are frequently found in orchards, cemeteries, parks and similar urban and suburban habitats that have abundant mature trees. Oak and other nut-bearing trees are especially popular with titmice.
Range: Tufted titmice are year-round residents of eastern North America, primarily in the United States but stretching northward slightly into southern Canada. They are found as far west as eastern Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. Because these birds do not migrate, they may be seen in any season.
The tufted titmouse does indeed have a tuft, a triangular crest it can raise and lower depending on its activities, mood and agitation – an upright crest indicates more aggressive, dominating behavior. These birds are light blue-gray above and white below, with a rusty, rufous or peach wash on the flanks that can vary in intensity. A key marking is the black square patch on the face, just above the bill but before the dark eyes. The bill is dark, and the wings may show a slight black edge depending on the bird’s posture, but there are no obvious wing bars or other markings.
These are energetic, curious dynamos, flitting about in the foliage as they glean for insects, seeds, nuts and berries. They often cache food, hiding seeds and nuts in bark cracks or crevices to revisit later. The items they eat are often hold between their feet as they hammer open a shell or break off small bits to swallow, giving them the appearance of heavy concentration as they eat. Tufted titmice are often seen with other small, active birds such as chickadees, kinglets, wrens and nuthatches, particularly in winter when mixed flocks are more common. They can be very vocal and have a high pitched, clear, piercing warble song. The typical call is a very agitated rasping that is quickly repeated, especially if the bird is alarmed or upset.
I’ve seen these birds several times, but none were more exciting than having a tufted titmouse appear at my feeder, which happened earlier this month for the very first time. I was out in the yard checking on some project work (repairs related to Hurricane Irma), when I heard that piercing warble and didn’t recognize it as one of my regular visitors. I could tell it was coming from the laurel oak’s foliage near the feeder, and within moments, a tufted titmouse swooped down to the feeder for a nibble. What a thrill! Over the next few days, I dug into some jumbled garage boxes, and found a small pole-mount dish feeder. It took a few more days to disassemble my feeder pole (it’s rusted together a bit, but a hammer fixed that problem) and add the new dish, but as soon as it was filled with peanut halves, it became a popular dining option. First came the blue jays, who took a few minutes to learn to balance on a smaller dish. Then the tufted titmouse made another appearance, and then another, very happy with those delicious nuts.
It’s another lesson in the diversity of bird feeding – no matter what foods you offer, there may always be a bird that prefers different treats. Change around what you offer now and then, or add a new feeder for a special treat, and you will be amazed at what new birds visit for a bite!