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Tufted Titmouse

Baeolophus bicolor ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: PARIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A little gray bird with an echoing voice, the Tufted Titmouse is common in eastern deciduous forests and a frequent visitor to feeders. The large black eyes, small, round bill, and brushy crest gives these birds a quiet but eager expression that matches the way they flit through canopies, hang from twig-ends, and drop in to bird feeders. When a titmouse finds a large seed, you’ll see it carry the prize to a perch and crack it with sharp whacks of its stout bill.

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At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
5.5–6.3 in
14–16 cm
Wingspan
7.9–10.2 in
20–26 cm
Weight
0.6–0.9 oz
18–26 g
Relative Size
Noticeably larger than a chickadee
Other Names
  • Mésange bicolor (French)
  • Paro, Copetoncito norteño (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • The Black-crested Titmouse of Texas and Mexico has at times been considered just a form of the Tufted Titmouse. The two species hybridize where they meet, but the hybrid zone is narrow and stable over time. They differ slightly in the quality of their calls, and show genetic differences as well.
  • Unlike many chickadees, Tufted Titmouse pairs do not gather into larger flocks outside the breeding season. Instead, most remain on the territory as a pair. Frequently one of their young from that year remains with them, and occasionally other juveniles from other places will join them. Rarely a young titmouse remains with its parents into the breeding season and will help them raise the next year's brood.
  • Tufted Titmice hoard food in fall and winter, a behavior they share with many of their relatives, including the chickadees and tits. Titmice take advantage of a bird feeder’s bounty by storing many of the seeds they get. Usually, the storage sites are within 130 feet of the feeder. The birds take only one seed per trip and usually shell the seeds before hiding them.
  • Tufted Titmice nest in tree holes (and nest boxes), but they can’t excavate their own nest cavities. Instead, they use natural holes and cavities left by woodpeckers. These species’ dependence on dead wood for their homes is one reason why it’s important to allow dead trees to remain in forests rather than cutting them down.
  • Tufted Titmice often line the inner cup of their nest with hair, sometimes plucked directly from living animals. The list of hair types identified from old nests includes raccoons, opossums, mice, woodchucks, squirrels, rabbits, livestock, pets, and even humans.
  • The oldest known wild Tufted Titmouse lived to be 13 years 3 months old.

Habitat


Forest

Tufted Titmice live in deciduous woods or mixed evergreen-deciduous woods, typically in areas with a dense canopy and many tree species. They are also common in orchards, parks, and suburban areas. Generally found at low elevations, Tufted Titmice are rarely reported at elevations above 2,000 feet.

Food


Insects

Tufted Titmice eat mainly insects in the summer, including caterpillars, beetles, ants and wasps, stink bugs, and treehoppers, as well as spiders and snails. Tufted Titmice also eat seeds, nuts, and berries, including acorns and beech nuts. Experiments with Tufted Titmice indicate they always choose the largest seeds they can when foraging.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
3–9 eggs
Number of Broods
1 broods
Egg Length
0.7–0.8 in
1.7–2 cm
Egg Width
0.6–0.6 in
1.4–1.6 cm
Incubation Period
12–14 days
Nestling Period
15–16 days
Egg Description
White to creamy white, spotted with chestnut-red, brown, purple, or lilac.
Condition at Hatching
Almost entirely naked and pink, with tufts of down on head and along spine, eyes closed.
Nest Description

Titmice build cup-shaped nests inside the nest cavity using damp leaves, moss and grasses, and bark strips. They line this cup with soft materials such as hair, fur, wool, and cotton, sometimes plucking hairs directly from living mammals. Naturalists examining old nests have identified raccoon, opossum, dog, fox squirrel, red squirrel, rabbit, horse, cow, cat, mouse, woodchuck, and even human hair in titmouse nests. Nest construction takes 6 to 11 days.

Nest Placement

Cavity

Tufted Titmice nest in cavities but aren’t able to excavate them on their own. They use natural holes and old nest holes made by several woodpecker species, including large species such as Pileated Woodpecker and Northern Flicker. Additionally, Tufted Titmice also nest in artificial structures including nest boxes, fenceposts, and metal pipes.

Tufted Titmouse Nest Image 1
© René Corado / WFVZ

Tufted Titmouse Nest Image 2
© René Corado / WFVZ

Behavior


Foliage Gleaner

Tufted Titmice flit from branch to branch of the forest canopy looking for food, often in the company of other species including nuthatches, chickadees, kinglets, and woodpeckers. When they find large seeds, such as the sunflower seeds they take from bird feeders, titmice typically hold the seed with their feet and hammer it open with their beaks. In fall and winter they often hoard these shelled seeds in bark crevices. These acrobatic foragers often hang upside down or sideways as they investigate cones, undersides of branches, and leaf clusters. They sometimes come all the way to the ground to hop around after fallen seeds or insects. Titmice are very vocal birds and are also quick to respond to the sounds of agitation in other birds, coming close to investigate or joining a group of birds mobbing a predator.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Tufted Titmice are common and their populations have been growing since 1966 according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 8 million with 100 percent occurring in the U.S. They rate an 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2012 Watch List. The Tufted Titmouse has been expanding its range northward over the last half-century. Possible reasons for the range expansion include a warming climate, reversion of farmlands to forests, and the growing popularity of backyard bird feeders.

Credits

Range Map Help

Tufted Titmouse Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Resident

Backyard Tips

Tufted Titmouse are regulars at backyard bird feeders, especially in winter. They prefer sunflower seeds but will eat suet, peanuts, and other seeds as well.

Tufted Titmouse build their nests in cavities, so putting up nest boxes is a good way to attract breeding titmice to your yard. Make sure you put it up well before breeding season. Attach a guard to keep predators from raiding eggs and young. Find out more about nest boxes on our Attract Birds pages. You'll find plans for building a nest box of the appropriate size on our All About Birdhouses site.

Find This Bird

Look for Tufted Titmice flitting through the outer branches of tree canopies in deciduous woods, parks, and backyards. A quiet walk through woodlands will often turn up the twittering of a mixed-species foraging flock, and you’ll likely find titmice in attendance. You’ll often hear the high, whistled peter-peter-peter song well before you see the bird.

Get Involved

Keep track of the Tufted Titmice at your feeder with Project FeederWatch

Visit the NestCams archives to watch Tufted Titmice at their nest.

Enhance your yard for titmice and other birds. Visit our web pages on feeding and attracting birds.

Check out our resources on attracting cavity-nesting birds and setting up a nest box for small songbirds such as Tufted Titmice. Then report any nesting activity to NestWatch

You Might Also Like

Risk Management for Chickadees, Living Bird, Autumn 2013

Tufted Titmouse from Bent's Life Histories of North American Birds (1947)

All About Birds blog, Here’s What to Feed Your Summer Bird Feeder Visitors, July 11, 2014.

All About Birds blog, Research Surprise: Many Birds Exposed to Eye Disease, but Only Finches Get Sick, August 25, 2014.

Downloadable "Common Feeder Birds" poster from Project FeederWatch (PDF)