Jul 15, 2016 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, August 2016

Tough Titmice!

Tufted titmice have black forehead patches. For some time researchers have thought that the patch may serve as a signal to other birds, indicating the individual's status.

Tufted titmice have black forehead patches, and for some time researchers have thought that the patch may serve as a signal to other birds, indicating the individual's status. Research appears to confirm this view. Titmice were observed at winter feeders in Kentucky. The birds were caught and color banded so they could be identified. At the same time, the forehead patch was measured. The birds were watched as they fed, and observers recorded every instance in which one bird showed dominance over another by either displacing it at a feeder or by staying unchallenged at the feeder while other birds waited patiently. Over the course of the winter it was possible to establish the social status of all the birds in the several flocks that regularly visited the feeders. It was found that birds with wider and larger forehead patches were socially dominant, but the height of the patch did not affect dominance. It is not usually possible to tell male from female titmice, even in the hand, and it is sometimes hard to tell young birds from older ones, factors that complicated the study. It is not known if the size of the patch increases with age. Previous studies had suggested that the patch may serve as a signal during courtship, but the most recent research indicates that it might be a status symbol throughout the year. Although the differences are usually too small to be seen in the field, if you notice one titmouse chasing another from the feeder, chances are that he has a bigger black forehead patch.

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  • 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
  • I had a pair nesting for the first time this year at our farmstead in South Dakota. Boxes put out for Bluebirds which didn't come, but these were a very pleasant consolation.
    by fluffypeanutcat, Tue, 25 Sep 2018
  • This is a good point. While cleaning mine, I kinda got the impression the cheep cheeps were waiting on me since they started chirping as soon as I brought it outside again. I swear they are so smart. Within five minutes of filling the feeder up, they are there to feast.cheers Cheep cheeps!
    by Kimber timbers, Fri, 20 Jul 2018