Feb 26, 2015 | Featured Web Article

A Closer Look at the Tufted Titmouse

The "mouse" portion of the tufted titmouse’s name probably comes from its beady black eyes, which stand out against a plain, pale face.
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The "mouse" portion of the tufted titmouse's name probably comes from its beady black eyes, which stand out against a plain, pale face. From deep mixed woods to old orchards, from city parks to leafy suburban backyards, this friendly and active little bird makes itself at home year-round. It's noisy and sociable, quite tame around humans, and fearless among other small birds with which it associates. Its cheerful calls of peter, peter, peter ring out even in midwinter. In winter tufted titmice travel in mixed flocks with chickadees, sparrows, woodpeckers, and kinglets. Tufted titmice are easy to locate by their noisy, scolding calls. When they sound especially agitated it's a good bet that they've located a predator, such as an owl, hawk, snake, cat, or fox. Along with their close chickadee relatives, titmice are the watchdogs of the woodlot and backyard, alerting other birds to danger.

How do I identify it? The tufted titmouse is 6 1/4 inches long and dressed primly across its upperparts in gray, with a creamy breast and rusty flanks. A black button-eye stands out and a crest adorns its head. Its small, sharp bill is black, as are its legs and feet. Titmice are very vocal and, besides their signature calls, they have a variety of whistled notes—similar to the northern cardinal and Carolina wren. Their harsh, raspy, scolding notes are similar to a chickadee's.

Where do I find it? The tufted titmouse was originally considered a southern woodland bird, but for the past 50 years it has been expanding its range northward and westward. The species' affinity for bird feeders and nesting boxes has played a part, as has the regeneration of wooded habitat. Titmice are nonmigratory and able to survive harsh weather as long as sufficient food is available.

What can I do to attract it? Tufted titmice eat mostly insects and seeds, depending on time of year. Caterpillars are popular in summer, but they also take wasps and bees, scale insects, beetles, the larvae of many species, and, in winter, insect eggs. Acorns are a mainstay in fall and winter. At feeders, titmice relish sunflower seeds, suet, suet dough, and peanuts. They often snag a single seed and fly away to crack it open to consume the nutmeat inside. The natural nesting choice of the tufted titmouse is a tree cavity—an abandoned woodpecker hole, or a crack caused by a lightning strike. Other sites include rotted fence posts and drainage pipes. Tufted titmice will breed in nest boxes, especially those with an entrance hole in the 1 1/2-inch diameter range. Boxes placed along woodland edges or inside the woods are most likely to be used for nesting or roosting by the tufted titmouse.

Where does it nest? The female builds the nest of grass, moss, bark, and leaves, filling up whatever spot they have adopted. When the main structure is completed, the birds line it with hair, often plucked from a living animal—woodchuck, rabbit, dog, or even a handy human. Five or six eggs are laid, incubated by the female for 12 to 14 days. Both parents feed the young, which fledge at about 15 days. The family group stays together, sometimes into the next year, and year-old birds may help their parents care for the nestlings of the newest brood.

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  • I have experienced this when a house wren punctured 5 blue bird eggs last spring in our blue bird box. Then I hung out a wren box by the trees and he got busy filling it and left the bluebirds alone and they successfully raised another brood!
    by Susan, Sun, 07 Apr 2019
  • I also have several turkeys that live in the woods behind me. They visit early morning and near sundown. Living in the country with a mountain and brook behind my house, I have animals visiting 24hrs a day. My turkeys are awesome. They know me and wait for their breakfast. They hop up on my patio wall to look in my windows. I also noticed the 2 birds that are the lookouts. They come over to eat as the others march across my lawn to my neighbor who also feeds the animals. We also have coyotes that, I am sure, have eaten turkey dinner. The squirrels run around and chase them to protect their seeds and cracked corn. I feed my 3 raccoons peanut butter jelly sandwiches, which they share with a possum and 3 skunks, at the same time, by the way. No food goes into my garbage. Meat scraps go to crows and hawks. Everything else, even soup, gets eaten before the sun is completely set. That keeps bears away if no dishes are there to entice. I break up bread in tiny pieces now and turkeys 'gobble' it up. So happy to find another person that enjoys wildlife. Nothing is more satisfying than walking out side and spotting Daisy the skunk, calling her name and watching her tripping all over herself, running to meet you. Thank you for your valuable information.
    by Stella Kachur, Wed, 27 Mar 2019
  • This is exactly my experience. The local feed store had some on sale so I thought I'd try some. Actually I was shocked at how it is avoided, and I've been feeding birds for more than 40 years. I suppose I've never had it out as the ONLY food source, but when I put it out along with the blackoil, peanuts, cracked corn and suet cakes, absolutely nothing would touch it. Even when I dumped some on the ground the rabbits wouldn't eat it, nor would the squirrels. Eventually some turkeys and deer ate some--when they could find nothing else underneath the other feeders. But even they left plenty on the ground which they NEVER do with cracked corn, sunflower, etc.Every person should try some if they're inclined and decide for themselves since every situation may be a bit different, but for me/my species, safflower is a big no.
    by Colin Croft, Sun, 03 Mar 2019
  • I have questions about the Zick Dough? It says not to use in cold weather. It is still in the 40s here. Too soon? How long should I expect a supply to last? And, use a tray feeder? Thanks.
    by martindf, Sun, 25 Nov 2018
  • Glad I found this. I'm a snowbird and was worried about all the birds that come to feed at my birdfeeder. I have Cardinals, sparrows, doves, Blue Jays, chickadees. I hope they'll find food elsewhere while I'm gone.
    by Donna, Sat, 03 Nov 2018