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.

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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