An Ode to the Titmouse

     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

a titmouse at our window feeder




5 Responses to “An Ode to the Titmouse”

  1. Kia Says:

    Loved seeing my window feeder on your site!! :) Great article too.

  2. Elizabeth H. Cottrell Says:

    Lovely…enriches my appreciation for this wonderful winter friend.

  3. Jim Cummings Says:

    Wonderful! These little guys and gals are my favorite out here in the foothills at the southern tip of the Rockies, too; cousins, anyway, the juniper titmouse. Cute!! Perhaps the spider pickins are slim here, but I seem to have year-round visits from the few titmice in the valley. I just LOVE the image of the momma spending the night on the rim of the nest prior to the start of incubation!

  4. April Says:

    I too found the image of the mama bird perched on the rim of the nest all night before beginning to incubate very interesting. I wonder why she does it!

  5. Ekaterina Says:

    Very intresting device for titimouse ))) And this my titmouse

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