¬†¬†¬†¬† Winter is the time when I get to see a lot of titmice.¬† (And you gotta love that plural!)¬† With leaves gone from the trees, and the insects and spiders these birds like to eat unavailable, titmice keep our two feeders hopping.
¬†¬†¬†¬† As I watch the action at the window feeder from¬†our living room couch, I feel a great fondness for these hardy little birds.¬† They are unassuming in appearance, except for their jaunty crest, and they strike me as hard workers.¬†¬†Over and over again, they drop from a¬†branch of the saucer magnolia tree, onto the feeder’s rim, pluck out a sunflower seed with their beak, and flutter back to the tree.¬† Holding the seed in place with their feet, they pound away¬†at it with their beak until it¬†breaks open, and they can eat it.¬† Then they go through the same process¬†again.¬† And again and again.
¬†¬†¬†¬† Not only does winter¬†bring¬†titmice to the feeders, but it also evokes different sounds from these little birds.¬† Their sweet, whistling calls of¬† spring are replaced by¬†squawking, scolding sounds.¬† In fact, several times lately, when I stopped¬†near the feeder to watch them, all the action was, instead, up¬†in the¬†trees.¬†¬†Several titmice¬†squawked angrily and¬†fluttered about.¬† It took me a little while¬†to realize they were carrying on about me!¬† I imagine my nearness to the feeder made them feel unsafe to jump down for a seed, and they wanted me to go away!¬† Never mind that¬†I’m the one who keeps the feeder filled with food!
¬†¬†¬†¬† I decided I would like to know more about these feathered neighbors of ours, so I did¬†a little¬†research.¬†¬†And I love this description¬†I found on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website:¬†¬†”The large, black eyes, small, round bill, and brushy crest give these birds a quiet but eager expression that matches the way they flit through canopies, hang from twig ends, and drop in to bird feeders.”¬†¬†The ‘quiet but eager expression’¬†part is apt.¬† Perhaps this attitude of theirs is part of what I¬†find so appealing about the little fellows.¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† I learned that the titmouse has a very wide range.¬† It can be found year-round throughout the eastern states and the midwest.¬† And its range is expanding northward, perhaps due to climate change and maybe also to increased winter feeding.¬† The titmouse lives in deciduous and mixed-deciduous forests and in residential areas where there are tall trees and dense canopy.
¬†¬†¬†¬† The tall trees and canopy provide food for titmice during the summer, when¬†they also¬†store nuts and seeds¬†in crevices along the bark of trees for eating later.¬†¬† Titmice also forage on the ground, and in winter they can be seen on tree trunks and at feeders.¬†¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† Late February through April is breeding season for the titmouse.¬† Males and females are monogamous for a single breeding season.¬† The female¬†chooses¬†for her nest a very deep¬†cavity (about 8-11 inches), typically in a¬†rotted tree.¬†¬† Over the course of about four days, she builds the nest.¬† First comes the foundation¬†of dried leaves, moss, and strips of bark.¬† Then she adds the insulation–down, fur, and hair.¬† Female titmice have actually been observed yanking hair from live mammals for their nest, including from the arms and heads of humans!¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† Once her nest is complete,¬†the female¬†lays an egg each day for 5-6 days.¬† Incubation begins after the second to the last egg has been laid, and before beginning to incubate her eggs, the female spends the¬†night perched on the rim of her nest.¬† The young fledge in about 18 days, and some might remain with their parents during the first winter, even¬†staying on to help¬†raise the next year’s brood!
¬†¬†¬†¬† I had to find out about the name ‘titmouse.’¬† It is believed to be a combination of the old English term for ‘bird’–’mase,’ and ‘tit,’ meaning something small.¬† There you have it!–April Moore
a titmouse at our window feeder