Tufted Titmouse Facts

Scientific Name: Baeolophus bicolor

Tufted Titmouse - Baeolophus bicolor

HH Fox / Getty Images

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.

Fast Facts: Tufted Titmouse

  • Scientific Name: Baeolophus bicolor
  • Common Names: Tufted titmouse
  • Basic Animal Group: Bird
  • Size: 5.9–6.7 inches
  • Weight: 0.6–0.9 ounce 
  • Lifespan: 2.1–13 years
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Habitat: Southeastern, eastern, and midwestern United States, southern Ontario (Canada)
  • Population: Hundreds of thousands or millions
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Description

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; these traits 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 upperparts and lighter gray on breast and belly
  • Light gray legs and feet
  • Medium-length, gray tail (about one third its entire length, head to tail)

Habitat and Distribution

Populations of tufted titmice stretch from the East Coast of the United States 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 a 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.

Diet and Behavior

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. In summer months they spend more time foraging in the canopy of a 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.

Reproduction and Offspring

Tufted titmice breed between March and May. The female generally lays between five and eight brown-speckled eggs in nests that are 3 to 90 feet high. They line their nests with soft materials such as wool, moss, cotton, leaves, bark, fur, or grass. The female incubates the eggs for 13 to 17 days. Tufted titmice typically have one or two broods each season. The young of the first brood usually help care for the nestlings of the second brood.

Most of the hatchlings die shortly after birth, but if they survive, they can live for more than two years. The oldest tufted titmouse on record lived to be 13 years old. The tufted titmouse is fully mature and ready for reproduction by age 1.

Nest and eggs of a Blue Tit (Cyanistes Caeruleus)
vandervelden / Getty Images

Conservation Status

The IUCN classifies the tufted titmouse's conservation status as "least concern." Researchers place the number of tufted titmice in the hundreds of thousands or millions. Their numbers have increased slightly in the past few decades, about 1 percent, and they have moved northward, from the southeastern U.S. to the New England region and Ontario, Canada.

Since they are among the larger species of birds, competition is not thought to be a factor, but they may be moving northward to areas where there are more dense populations of trees due to climate change.

Sources

  • "Tufted Titmouse.” Animal Spot.
  • Tufted Titmouse.” Tufted Titmouse - Introduction | Birds of North America Online.
  • Watt DJ. 1972. Comparison of the foraging behaviors of the Carolina Chickadee and Tufted Titmouse in northwestern Arkansas. M.Sc. thesis, Univ. Arkansas, Fayetteville.