A common resident in much of the East, this species is often found at bird feeders where it likes both sunflower seeds and suet. Its range is continuing to expand in the north, perhaps owing to the presence of feeders or to changes in climate.
Tufted TitmouseParus bicolor
This tame, active, crested little bird is common all year in eastern forests, where its whistled song may be heard even during winter thaws. It is related to the chickadees, and like them it comes to bird feeders, often carrying away sunflower seeds one at a time. Feeders may be helping it to expand its range: in recent decades, Tufted Titmice have been steadily pushing north. A very distinctive form, the "Black-crested Titmouse," lives in much of southern and western Texas.
Field MarksA small, gray, mouse-colored bird with a tufted crest. Underparts pale, sides rusty, light spot between the eye and bill. Those in much of southern, central, and western Texas have a black crown and crest (this form is regarded by some as a distinct species, Parus atricristatus, known as the "Black-crested Titmouse").
Size5-6" (13-15 cm)
Similar SpeciesIn the western part of their range in Texas, young birds (gray-crested) are almost indistinguishable from Plain Titmouse.
VoiceA clear whistled chant: peter, peter, peter, or here, here, here, here. Notes similar to those of chickadees, but more drawling, nasal, wheezy, and complaining.
RangeEastern North America to western Texas, northeastern Mexico. The birds of southern, central, and western Texas are regarded by some as a distinct species (Parus atricristatus), known as the "Black-crested Titmouse."
MigrationPermanent resident. Young birds may disperse some distance away from where they were raised (in any direction, including north).
HabitatWoodlands, shade trees, groves. Mostly in deciduous forest with tall trees, sometimes in mixed forest. Can live in orchards, suburbs, or even city parks if trees are large enough. In southern Texas, "Black-crested" Titmouse inhabits brushlands and low woods as well as taller trees along rivers.
FeedingDiet: Mostly insects and seeds. Insects are close to two-thirds of diet, with caterpillars most important in summer; also eats wasps, bees, sawfly larvae, beetles, scale insects, many others, plus spiders, snails. Seeds, nuts, and berries are important in diet in winter.
Behavior: Forages by hopping actively among branches and twigs of trees, often hanging upside down, sometimes hovering momentarily. Often drops to the ground for food as well. Opens acorns and seeds by holding them with feet and pounding with bill. Will store food items, retrieving them later.
NestingMale feeds female often from courtship stage until after eggs hatch. Breeding pair may have a "helper," one of their offspring from the previous year.
Nest: Site is in hole in tree, either natural cavity or old woodpecker hole; averages about 35' above the ground, ranging from 3' to 90' up. Unlike the chickadees, apparently does not excavate its own nest hole. Will also use birdhouses. Nest (probably built by female) has foundation of grass, moss, leaves, bark strips, lined with soft materials, especially animal hair. Bird may pluck hair from live woodchuck, dog, or other animal, even from humans.
Eggs: 5-6, sometimes 3-9. White, finely dotted with brown. Incubation is by female, 12-14 days.
Young: Female stays with young much of time at first, while male brings food; later, young are fed by both parents, sometimes by additional helper. Young leave nest 15-16 days after hatching.
ConservationContinuing to expand its range to the north, and surveys suggest that populations are increasing in much of range.