The Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) is a small, gray-plumed songbird, easily recognized for the crest of gray feathers atop its head, its big black eyes, black forehead, and its rust-colored flanks. They are quite common throughout the eastern part of North America, so if you're in that geographical region and want to catch a glimpse of a Tufted Titmouse, it may not be that difficult to find.
They are considered to be year-round residents throughout their range. Male and female titmice have similar plumage, which makes identification a little bit easier, and titmice can be tempted to backyard bird feeders, so you may not have to go far at all to see one.
Tufted Titmice exhibit some distinct physical characteristics that make them easy to identify—characteristics that are easily spotted under most conditions and are not shared by too many other species within their range. The key physical characteristics to watch for when trying to identify a tufted titmouse include:
- Gray crest
- Black forehead and bill
- Large, black eyes
- Rusty-orange flanks
The characteristics listed above are most useful in confirming that the bird you're looking at is a Tufted Titmouse. But you can also look for other field marks characteristic of the species, which include:
- Overall gray color, with darker gray upper parts and lighter gray on breast and belly
- Light gray legs and feet
- Medium-length, gray tail (about one third it's entire length, head to tail)
Tufted Titmice feed on insects and seeds. They forage on trees and can be seen on trunks and limbs looking for insects in the crevices of the bark. They also forage on the ground. Throughout the year, their preferred foraging locations can change. For example, Watt (1972) noted that in summer months they spend more time foraging in the canopy of tall tree, while in winter they can be spotted on trunks and in shorter trees more often.
When cracking open nuts and seeds, Tufted Titmice hold the seed in their feet and hammer them with their bill. Tufted Titmice feed on a variety of invertebrates including caterpillars, beetles, ants, wasps, bees, treehoppers, spiders and snails. When feeding at backyard bird feeders, Tufted Titmice have a fondness for sunflower seeds, nuts, suet, and mealworms.
Tufted Titmice move along branches and over the ground by jumping and hopping. When flying, their flight path is direct and not undulating. The song of the Tufted Titmouse is usually a clear, two-syllable whistle, peter peter peter peter. Their call is nasal and consists of a series of sharp notes, ti ti ti sii sii zhree zhree zhree (Sibley 2003).
Range and Habitat:
Populations of tufted titmice stretch from the east coast westward to the plains of central Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa. The highest population densities of tufted titmice occur along the Ohio, Cumberland, Arkansas, and Mississippi rivers. Within their range, there are certain habitats that Tufted Titmice prefer—they are most common in deciduous and mixed-deciduous forests, especially those with dense canopy or tall vegetation. Tufted titmice also occur to a lesser extent in suburban areas, orchards, and wetlands and can be spotted at backyard bird feeders on occasion, during the fall and winter months.
- Grubb TC, Pravasudov VV. 1994. Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
- Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Tufted Titmouse.
- Watt DJ. 1972. Comparison of the foraging behaviors of the Carolina Chickadee and Tufted Titmouse in northwestern Arkansas. M.Sc. thesis, Univ. Arkansas, Fayetteville.