Meet the Adorable Titmouse Bird Tribe
Learn about the super cute titmouse bird family. Discover the five titmouse species that birders can see across the United States.
A titmouse is a bird overflowing with sheer cuteness, complete with a cheery voice, perky crest and lots of energy. Five species of titmouse live in North America, and each of them is a popular backyard bird within its range. They’re also coveted visitors to bird feeders and birdhouses. Here’s a bit more about these spunky birds.
Titmouse Bird Family
A titmouse may not be as recognizable as a chickadee, but the birds are related. It’s easy to see the resemblance if you watch their behavior for a while. They have the same kind of active, acrobatic antics, flitting about the branches and hanging upside down from the ends of twigs as they search for insects. Like the chickadees, titmice are permanent residents, sticking around even during cold weather. Most are a little larger than chickadees, and they usually aren’t as sociable, forming smaller flocks.
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Courtesy Benjamin Blyther
Tufted Titmouse: Popular in the East
The cheerful peeto-peeto-peeto song of the tufted titmouse can be heard all over the eastern half of the U.S., from Florida and eastern Texas to the Great Lakes and central New England. Most common in the South, titmice have been gradually extending their range northward in recent decades. Members of a tufted titmouse pair may stay together all year, including in winter, when they’re likely to join a mixed flock with chickadees, nuthatches and downy woodpeckers.
In spring, the pair of titmice will leave the flock and find a suitable cavity for building their nest and raising their young. The nest itself is a cup of leaves, moss, grass and bark strips, and lined with soft material, like animal hair. It isn’t easy to find animal hair just lying around, though, and some daredevil titmice have been seen pulling hairs from sleeping dogs or cows!
Only the female incubates the eggs, but after the eggs hatch, the male does his share of feeding the young. And sometimes the pair of adults will have helpers. Their own young from the previous year may have stayed with the parents through the winter, and when that happens, they may stick around to help feed their younger siblings in the new nest.
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Black-Crested Titmouse: Texas Resident
Walk into a riverside forest in southern Texas and you may think you’re hearing the song of a tufted titmouse, but when the bird pops out into the open, you’ll see that it has a white forehead and a striking black crest. Once considered to belong to the same species as the tufted titmouse, it is now classified as a separate species: the black-crested titmouse. It’s widespread and common in southern and central Texas, extending south into eastern Mexico and north into the edge of southwestern Oklahoma.
In its song, call notes and behavior, it is very much like its tufted cousin. In east-central Texas, the black-crested titmouse sometimes interbreeds with the tufted titmouse. The resulting hybrids usually have dark gray crests, and often a spot of reddish brown on the forehead.
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Oak Titmouse and Juniper Titmouse: A Delightful Duo
Across the western states you may notice plain gray titmice with short, pointed crests and no trace of any brighter color or pattern. They might look dull at first glance, but watch for a while and you’ll discover that they are spunky, active little birds, brimming with personality. For many years, these were regarded as just one species under the appropriate name of plain titmouse.
But in the 1990s, studies proved that they were actually two separate species, with different voices and different choices of habitat. So now we have the oak titmouse living in the oak woods of California and extreme southern Oregon, and the juniper titmouse inhabiting woods of juniper and pinyon pine in the interior of the west, from northeastern California to New Mexico.
The oak titmouse is a common visitor to backyard bird feeders along parts of the California coast. Compared to other titmice, it seems less sociable. Pairs may wander through the woods together, but they don’t usually join up with bigger flocks.
Juniper titmice are sometimes hard to find. In arid, open woods of juniper and pinyon pine, they live in scattered pairs and small flocks. But in the Southwest, they will sometimes join up with flocks of their sharp-looking relatives, the bridled titmouse.
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Bridled Titmouse: Southwestern Specialty
In the mountains of Arizona and New Mexico, in woodlands of the canyons and foothills, flocks of bridled titmice flit through the oaks. These are the smallest of the titmice, and they often seem to sound and act more like chickadees. But in addition to the bridle-like face pattern that gives them their name, they have the sharp, pointed crest of a typical titmouse.
More than other titmice, this one loves company. They break up into pairs for the nesting season, but at other times of year, bridled titmice may travel in flocks of 20 or more. Small in stature but big on personality, all of these titmice liven up their surroundings in a particularly endearing fashion. Be sure to watch and listen for them on your next bird walk and follow our tips for enticing them to your yard, too.
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Attract Titmice to Your Yard
If you live in the range of one of these titmouse species, it’s not hard to lure them to your yard. Here are some basics to bring them in.
- Mature Trees: This is the main requirement: Titmice won’t live in treeless terrain. Tufted and black-crested titmice favor tall, deciduous trees, while the names of oak and juniper titmice give clues about their preferences. But wherever you are, some good-sized trees native to your own region are great choices.
- Sunflower Seeds: These popular seeds, especially the black-oil variety of sunflower seeds, are magnets for titmice. In fall and winter, titmice may make dozens of trips from your feeder to nearby trees, carrying away one sunflower seed at a time to hide it in a tree crevice or under bark.
- Suet and Substitutes: In the wild, titmice eat both seeds and insects. At the feeder, complement the seeds by offering raw suet, suet cakes or some other protein source like peanut butter mixtures.
- Nestboxes: Titmice aren’t attracted to artificial nesting sites as readily as some other birds, but they will use a nestbox designed for bluebirds, especially if it’s placed a little higher—perhaps 8 to 10 feet off the ground—in a shady location.
Next, learn how to choose the perfect chickadee nest box.