The Tufted Titmouse
Of all the regular visitors at our feeders, one of my favorites is the Tufted Titmouse. This is a fairly small gray bird with a white underside and an orange brush of color along its sides. It has large dark eyes and a tufted crest which it can raise or lower, depending on its mood. The crest is raised in competition and lowered when relaxed.
Habitat and feeding
The titmouse is a year-round resident in many areas. It prefers woodland, as well as shade trees in towns and parks. Titmice seem like the ladies and gentlemen of the bird-feeding station. The are always patient and wait their turn at the feeder. The take one seed and then fly back to a tree branch to eat it. The hold the seed between their feet and hammer it into edible pieces with their bill. Titmice enjoy eating black oil sunflower seed. They also eat spiders and spider eggs, snails, and acorns.
During winter months, titmice form flocks that include parents and young, usually three to six birds. They travel a range of 15 to 20 acres. You may have one or more flocks visiting your feeder during winter.
During late winter, members of the flock begin chasing each other and giving out lots of scolding calls. This is the beginning of breeding season. The flock will break up, and individual birds will establish their own territories. You might also hear male titmice chanting a song that sounds like peter, peter, peter. This is their way of defending their territory against other males and announcing their presence to any females in the area. A behavior you may observe during courtship is mate-feeding. The male gets food from your feeder, carries it you the female, and places it in her mouth. The female often quivers her wings and gives a high-pitched whistle.
Titmice are cavity nester, often preferring to build nests in tree cavities. You can help attract these birds to your yard by providing nest boxes. A titmouse nesting box should have a hole no larger than one and one-quarter inch in diameter and should be placed five to ten feet above ground in deep cover. Titmouse nests are usually made of moss, bark, hair, and other soft materials. (After brushing your pet, puts its hair out for nesting material.) Titmice lay five to eight eggs (creamy white, spotted with brown). The first brood will hatch from late May to early June. The young will not have a black patch above the bill until after their molt in late summer.
Next time you hear peter, peter, peter, be sure to look for this spunky, big-eyed beauty. You can encourage the Tufted Titmouse to spend more time in your backyard by presenting peanuts in a peanut feeder.