Carolyn Gritzmaker Indian Trail Master Naturalist
At six inches, the tufted titmouse(Parus bicolor) is a little larger than its close relative the Carolina chickadee(Parus carolinensis). The titmouse is gray, with rusty flanks, a tufted crest, short dark bill and a blackish forehead. Titmice are very active little birds. You can often see them flit about in trees as they feed, sometimes hanging upside down from the end of a branch.
During the winter months, titmice will roam about in small groups with other birds, like kinglets and chickadees. In late winter and early spring the little flocks will begin to disband and form pairs. The song of the titmouse will now be heard more frequently as nesting territories become defined. At the borders of these territories rival males will often sing loudly and answer each other’s song, as if telling the other not to cross the line. Because of his dull coloring, the “Peter bird” is often heard before he is seen. His song is a whistled “Peter peter peter” and is quite easy to imitate. If you answer his call the titmouse will usually pop into view, expecting to find another male titmouse and ready to defend his territory.
Nesting begins in late March and continues through early June. The pairs will explore all the possible nesting sites in their territory before the female chooses one and builds the nest. This will take her from 6-11 days to complete. The nests are found from 3-90 feet high in cavities such as old woodpecker holes, tree cavities and sometimes bird houses. The male will remain nearby and will sometimes feed the female.
Both parents feed the young birds. The young will leave the nest in about 17 days, but will continue to be fed by the adults for another month.
Their food is varied, from insects to seeds, berries and acorns. At feeders they will take suet and sunflower seeds. Titmice are bold little birds. As an example of their fearless nature, I was filling our bird feeders this winter when a titmouse lit on the feeder not two feet away from me, gave a quick look, took a sunflower seed and flew off again.
The tufted titmouse is an abundant permanent resident in our area. They are most often found in deciduous trees and wooded parks and groves, and are especially common along streams.