This week I am going take a look at the tufted titmouse, one of the bounciest and brightest little birds that will visit your yard.
The word “titmouse” is derived from an Old Icelandic word, “titr”, which means “something small.” This is one of the only bird names I have come across that originated in a language other than French, Latin or Greek.
In the case of the name “titmouse,” the word “mouse” is actually a corruption of an old Anglo-Saxon word, “mase,” which means “a kind of bird.” Again, the origin of this word is unusual. When translated literally, the name “titmouse” means “a small kind of bird.” No wonder there are so few bird names with Anglo-Saxon and Icelandic heritage!
As the origins of the name would suggest, the titmouse belongs to a very well-known family of European birds. In Britain, all 12 members of the Paridae family are known simply as “tits.” In the United States, however, only the titmouse has retained even a hint of this heritage, while the other members of the family, the chickadees, have been named after their songs and calls.
The names may be confusing, but identifying the titmouse is amazingly easy. It is one of only five winter birds in our area that have pointed crests of feathers on top of their heads.
The other four are: the northern cardinal, both sexes of which have some red coloration; the blue jay, which is bright blue; the cedar waxwing, which rarely visits feeders; and the pileated woodpecker, which is impossible to confuse with anything else.
The tufted titmouse is also the smallest of the crested birds, with a body length of five and a half inches. Finally, the coloration of the bird is unmistakable. The titmouse has a gray head, back, wings, and tail, and a white breast with buff-colored flanks. The only other color is a small patch of black on the bird’s forehead. Males and females are identical in appearance.
The shiny black eyes of the titmouse stand out in contrast to the pale gray of the face, giving the appearance that the bird is looking at you with great scrutiny. As it happens, this may be more than just appearance.
Titmice are extremely bold, and it is quite likely that one of these little birds will come down to within eight feet of you. This usually happens when you go outside to re-fill your feeder, and the titmice almost seem to be acting as supervisors, making sure that you are doing the job properly. They make up for their diminutive size with enormous personalities.
The tufted titmouse is a year-round resident in our area. Its favorite food is sunflower seed presented in a tube- or bin-type feeder up off the ground. Black oil sunflower seeds in particular are good for titmice, because the seed shells are thin and easy to crack open. Peanuts are a little more difficult to open, but they are a real treat.
Titmice also like beef suet, and these feeders can be placed right next to your house where you can get a nice close look at these beautiful little birds.
keep it coming
This brings me to one final and important point. If you choose to start feeding the birds in your yard, it is important that you continue to feed them through the winter. In the case of the titmouse, a sudden loss of a food source may actually spell disaster.
Bill Danielson is a professional nature photographer and author living in Altamont. Contact him at www.speakingofnature.com.