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Art Lander’s Outdoors: A friendly bird, the Tufted Titmouse is known for crested head, distinctive song


This is the last in a series of articles about small songbirds often seen around bird feeders in rural and suburban areas of Kentucky during the late fall and winter.

The Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) is identified by a crest of gray feathers on its head and its distinctive song.

The Tufted Titmouse has a distinctive head with a pointed, gray crest, square black patch on its forehead and short, stout bill. (Photo courtesy of National Audubon Society)

In winter this friendly little bird readily comes to backyard bird feeders, carrying away black oil sunflower seeds one at a time to eat secluded from other birds, or cached for later.

Very vocal, the Tufted Titmouse can be heard almost any time of the year, including warm spells in winter, belting out its distinctive, whistling peter-peter-peter song.

Closely related to the Carolina Chickadee, both are members of family Paridae, which was formerly classified in the genus Parus.

Size and Coloration

The Tufted Titmouse is slightly larger than the Carolina Chickadee, about six inches head to tail, with a gray back and tail feathers, whitish breast and dark eyes. Its sides are rust colored.

The head is distinctive, with a pointed, gray crest, square black patch on its forehead and short, stout bill.

A similar bird is the Black-crested Titmouse (Baeolophus atricristatus), once considered a subspecies, but recognized as a separate species in 2002. It is native to southern Texas, Oklahoma, and east-central Mexico.

Where the ranges of the two species meet in east-central Texas, they sometimes interbreed, producing hybrids that may show a dark gray crest and a reddish brown forehead.

The Black-crested Titmouse (Baeolophus atricristatus), once considered a subspecies of the Tufted Titmouse, was recognized as a separate species in 2002. It is native to southern Texas, Oklahoma, and east-central Mexico. (Photo provided)

Range and Distribution

The Tufted Titmouse is among the most widely distributed songbirds in Kentucky, a common, permanent resident, according to The Kentucky Breeding Bird Atlas, by Brainard Palmer-Ball Jr.

In the Lower 48 states, its breeding range includes most of the eastern U.S., from Massachusetts, west to Kansas, south to Texas, east to Florida, and up the Atlantic coast.

In recent decades surveys have shown overall population increases, and range expansion to the north, into Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska.

Habitat

In Kentucky, the Tufted Titmouse is found in all forest types across the state, but less numerous at the highest elevations of southeastern Kentucky.

Preferred habitat is deciduous forests, woodland edges in farmland, wooded suburbs, orchards, and city parks with extensive stands of large trees.

Food Habits

The Tufted Titmouse is omnivorous and feeds mostly in trees.

Its spring and summer its diet consists mostly of caterpillars, wasps, spiders, bees, beetles, and insect eggs and pupae.

In fall and winter, seeds, nuts, berries, and small fruits are important food sources.

Acorns and seeds are opened by holding them in their feet and pounding away with their bill.

At the backyard bird feeder, the Tufted Titmouse prefers black oil sunflower seeds and suet mixtures with berries.

The nest of the Tufted Titmouse is a neat cup of fine plant material, lined with animal hair in the natural cavity of a tree.(Photo courtesy All About Birds)

Reproduction and Nesting

In Kentucky, territorial behavior begins in March, and nests are being built by the beginning of April.

The Tufted Titmouse is a cavity nester, raising its young in a natural tree cavity or old woodpecker hole, about 25 to 35 feet or higher, usually in the woods, or along the forest edge.

The nest is a neat cup of fine plant material, lined with animal hair.

Peak clutch completion is by late April, but some clutches are laid as late as June.

Females lay on average about five white eggs, finely dotted with brown, reddish, or purple. The female incubates the eggs for 12 to 14 days and stays with her nestlings much of time at first, while the male brings food. Later, the young are fed by both parents, sometimes by an additional helper, an offspring from the previous year

The young leave the nest about 15 to 6 days after hatching.

Readers are probably wondering where does the Tufted Titmouse get animal hair for its nest?

Believe it or not, ornithologists have observed this brave and daring little bird plucking hair from a live woodchuck, dog and other animals. Who wouldn’t want to see that?

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Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.


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