Tufted Titmouse: A Backyard Favorite
Even without binoculars, the silhouette alone provides enough clues to identify this popular backyard bird of the eastern United States: the small fin-shaped crest, a short, stout bill and round body. It’s a Tufted Titmouse!
We often associate titmice (and their close relatives, the chickadees) with winter, when these bold, social, and vocal songbirds regularly visit bird feeders or even, on cold days, to an outstretched hand to take a seed. Some of that association has to do with their behavior in winter: chickadees and titmice, members of the family Paridae, often lead mixed flocks that include nuthatches and kinglets in search of food and safety in numbers from predators.
Titmice (like chickadees) are nonmigratory, but perhaps due to all those feeders, over the years they have been pushing north, expanding their range. And parids will move because of poor weather or food shortages; such an invasion of titmice has been happening this season in our backyard of New York City, bringing titmice into the urban landscape in numbers not seen in three decades.
That unpredictability makes for memorable experiences. Since October, titmice have flooded the parks and streets of the city. On the Central Park Christmas Bird Count last December, dozens of birdwatchers ticked off 765 titmice – a total greater than some of the hardiest city birds like pigeons and starlings. The year before, not a single titmice was seen.
What are they eating? Hundreds can be seen in Central Park’s Ramble, the wooded maze-like interior of the park, in and around its bird feeders, taking sunflower seeds one at a time. Around the city, we’ve seen them scrapping pieces of loose bread, eating the seeds of tulip trees, holding acorns with their strong legs and feet (another characteristic of parids) and pounding away at them with their stout bills. They’re on the ground, hanging upside down in treetops to pick apart some hard-to-reach seed, or in the brush.
Wherever you see titmice this season, we say enjoy them: because in no time those flocks will break up and they’ll begin pairing off, and these backyard birds will become less social – until next winter.