Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor).

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As with white-breasted nuthatches and chickadees, I think of tufted titmice as members of the jet-set among feeder birds. They grab-and-go rather than sitting around the feeder. I realize now the reason for this. The jet-setters are birds that crack seeds against tree limbs. It’s all a matter of beak shape–pointed and sharp as opposed to stubby and strong, like cardinals and house-finches, who crack the seed in their strong beaks while they lounge at the feeders. The jet-setters, on the other hand, fly off with the seed to a tree limb, where they hold it in their agile claws while pounding it against the limb with their sharp, pointed bills. I’m thinking of white-breasted nuthatches with the sharp, pointed bills. Also woodpeckers. Titmice’s bills are not so sharp and pointed, but titmice seem to pound rather than munch anyway.

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a good description of the tufted titmouse: large black eyes, small, round bill, and brushy crest. Their large eyes give them an eager, expectant air that’s quite becoming for a small bird. Their flanks are a rusty brown, as can be seen in these photos. Males, females, and juveniles all look alike, according to Birds of New Jersey.

Most field guides describe their song as peter peter peter. It’s one of the few bird songs I recognize without seeing the bird. Very distinctive and always a welcome sound.

Titmice are non-migratory. They flock together with chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers. The birds in this mixed flock show up at my feeders at the same time every day, usually mid-morning and again late afternoon. I wonder how extensive their itinerary is each day.

The tufted titmice in the photos above do not have predominant crests. Perhaps the raised crests of titmice are an indication of aggression, as with bluejays. Titmice are known to chase smaller birds, like chickadees from their mixed flocks, away from feeders. Cornell Lab of Ornithology website calls this behavior assertive rather than aggressive. How could such a sweet little bird be aggressive. Hmmm. Too bad we can’t ask the chickadees.

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