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Scientific name: Baeolophus bicolor
Common name: 
Tufted Titmouse

(Information in this Species Page was compiled by David Vogel in Biology 220W, Spring 2005, at Penn State New Kensington)

The tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) is a small (4.5 to 5.5 inches long, 18 to 26 grams), predominately gray, non-migratory bird that is very common in the eastern and especially the northeastern United States. Male and female titmice are very similar in size and coloration. Their backs are a dark gray that fades into light gray and white around to their bellies. They also have side feathers that are a rusty, reddish brown, and their legs are gray. They have short, slender beaks, black eyes, and a head crest of tufted feathers.

Tufted titmice live in a wide variety of habitats: deciduous forests, orchards, parks, marshes, suburban yards, and rural farms and fields. In the summer they are most often found in dense, wooded areas and in the fall and winter are frequent visitors to the millions of bird feeders maintained by bird lovers throughout the eastern United States. Wind is an especially important ecological variable influencing the distribution of the tufted titmouse. They tend avoid open, windy sites and even stay away from the windward sides of their wooded habitats.

Mating, Reproduction and Family Groups
Titmice nest in dead, standing trees. Their nests may be located anywhere from three to ninety feet above the ground. Nesting pairs are predominately monogamous through their lives although mating between non-paired individuals can occur. A mating pair will re-use their nest site year after year. In the northern regions of their distribution titmice have one brood per year, while in the southern regions two broods per year are possible. There can be 4 to 8 eggs in a clutch (with 5 to 7 the most common) and typically 1 to 6 of the young survive to fledge. The titmice form family groups of 3 to 8 individuals. These groups may even stay together through the subsequent winter as they gather into multi-familial and multi-species over-wintering flocks. These flocks are extremely efficient in finding food and avoiding predators. The titmice in these flocks establish a numerical dominance that enables them to establish a behavioral and feeding dominance over other, even larger, species of birds.

Tufted titmice eat insects, spiders, seeds, and fruit. In their natural habitats, insects and spiders typically gleaned from over and under the bark of trees are probably their dominant sources of food. Small fruits and berries that ripen seasonally (including the berries of poison ivy that ripen in the early winter) are also important, natural food sources. Tufted titmice, though, are renowned for their fondness for sunflower seeds and will be very abundant, especially in the winter, around feeders that feature this high energy food.

Body Fat, Social Position and Predation
The amount of fat an individual titmouse has in its body is a very important indicator of social position and ecological success. Heavier males with higher amounts of body fat tend to be lower on the flock’s social dominance hierarchy than are lighter males with lower amounts of body fat. The more dominant an individual is, the higher his relative feeding priority will be and, thus, the more predictable (day to day) his food availability and abundance will be. So, in these dominant birds, carrying extra stores of energy in their body fat tissues to enable them to survive a day or two without eating is a burden without realistic benefit. Lower dominance individuals, though, have less of a guarantee that they will fully feed in a given day as the food resources available may be exhausted or seriously depleted by the priority feeding of the more dominant individuals. These lower dominance individuals, then, may benefit from the caloric stores of body fat which will ensure their survival during those periods of lower than baseline caloric consumption. These heavier, higher body fat birds are slower and less maneuverable than the lighter birds. These heavier birds also need, on average to forage more extensively and more frequently to gather their required daily calories. These two considerations make these heavier birds both more susceptible and more exposed to predators. Owls, hawks, and kestrels are all opportunistic predators of titmice. Domestic cats also kill large numbers of titmice each year.

The range of the tufted titmouse continues to expand northward. Possibly this observation is yet another piece of evidence of the ecological consequences of global warming. Some researchers, though, have also discussed that the increased prevalence of bird feeding may also be a possible factor in the expansion of this species’ range.

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