Not Such a Dummy After All


In my recent post, Dummy, I wrote about an intrepid pair of Black-crested TitmouseBaeolophus atricristatus, building a nest in a hanging bird house that Bee/Bird Daddy built some time ago.  It was the first avian interest shown in this house, and I was tickled that Titmice chose this bit of bird real estate.  Some of the cutest birds around, Black-crested Titmice are frequent visitors to my birdbaths and black-oiled sunflower feeders, and are year-round resident songbirds in Central Texas.  Over the course a few days, I enjoyed observing their nesting preparations, as I’ve never been privileged to see those activities up-close.

Throughout nest-building project, I noticed House SparrowsPasser domesticus,    harassing the Titmice at every turn. House Sparrows are invasive birds, ubiquitous in urban areas.  I’ve mostly tolerated them, not necessarily considering them particularly destructive, and enjoying their chatter–and there’s plenty to be had of that!  They are piggy at the feeders, but they never appeared to displace other birds.  I’ve read that they bully and even kill native songbirds, but never witnessed those heinous acts.  But since the Titmice began prepping the house for their own offspring, I’ve observed intimately the House Sparrows’  nasty behavior toward another bird species. While no direct songbird murder occurred (that I saw), the Sparrows certainly impeded the Titmice family planning.

When at home, I’d chase the Sparrows off–yelling at them as I bolted out the front door.  (My neighbors are accustomed to my, er, eccentricities in that way).  While the Titmice continued bringing bits of nesting material to the house, singing and calling at one another as they worked, the House Sparrows proved persistent oppressors.

My concern about the Sparrow activities increased as I observed their determination to tyrannize the Titmice.  I researched about various methods of discouraging them from successfully driving off native songbirds, especially during nesting season.  One of the articles discussed affixing monofilament or fishing line around the bird house, because House Sparrows are inexplicably spooked by the fishing line, though it apparently doesn’t stop native birds from building.  I also removed the rain chain, hanging directly in front of the house, so that the Sparrows couldn’t perch on it as they were bullying the titmice.

My focus was to photograph the Titmice, but the House Sparrows would perch on the rain chain and the house perch.

Alas, all measures were too little, too late, and too lame.  I realized last weekend that the Titmice were no longer working at the house.  As well, the Sparrows were scarce–they’d intimidated the titmice successfully and after rendering their competition moot, they moved on.

After a few days of quiet at the bird house, I wanted to see exactly what the Titmice had used to build their nest, so opened up the bird house and discovered that they’d made far more progress than I’d realized.

Pretty, speckled eggs. Each egg was about one-half inch in diameter.

Sniff.  Three lonesome little eggs that will never become charming Titmice chicks. True to the literature on Titmice nesting, the nest was full of animal fur, soft pollen, and bits of cut grass.

Lots of fur in this nest. I recognized the coloring common to Virginia opossums.

I’ve learned some things with this experience.  Next spring, early in the season, I’ll remove the rain chain and will also re-string the fishing line around the nest box.  I’m also planning to saw off the house perch.  It’ll limit the Titmice from landing, but as I observed  the Titmice entering the house, they mostly flew directly to the entrance, without a perch-stop.  However, the House Sparrows perched on the perch, blocking the Titmice from entering the house.

I hear Titmice song everyday–though not in my garden–especially in early morning and near sundown,  so I hope they found a safer spot to raise their babies.  There are significantly more House Sparrows than Black-crested Titmice in my neighborhood and I imagine there’s fierce competition for nesting spots.

I’m sure I’ll see Titmice, but I’ll have to wait until next year for any possibility of hosting a family of these darlings.

A companionable House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) shares with a Black-crested Titmouse.

18 thoughts on “Not Such a Dummy After All

  1. Tina is a tragedy that the Titmice have been working to bring to the nest box materials despite being harassed by the sparrows and found three eggs and found they had to leave. Three lives that have not come to be born because of the sparrows. Here in Madrid the opposite happens: it is the sparrows harassed by hundreds of parrots in Argentina that have formed large colonies in the large trees forming giant community nests and in many places where they are, the sparrows and the swallows have disappeared completely. It’s a shame, because now you only hear their screams and not the song of the sparrows and watch the swallows that stay all year round in Madrid and do not migrate as in the countryside or in smaller cities. Have a nice week. Greetings from Margarita.

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    • Oh, that’s very interesting, Margarita. Yes, it’s the European House Sparrow (like the European Starling) that’s such a problem here for our native bird. It’s certainly ironic that your native House Sparrow is being displaced by a New World parrot. The world is messed up!

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  2. I thought this was a sad story as well. Here in North Carolina, I have had house wrens that have gone after Carolina chickadees; last year, they destroyed chickadee eggs and killed chickadee nestlings. Chickadees have a nest completed again this year and I haven’t seen the migratory house wrens yet so I’m hopeful the chickadees will succeed this year!

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    • That’s interesting. I guess I always assume that the songbirds are sweet birds and wouldn’t dare bother other songbirds. (duh….) Good luck with your chickadees–they’re darlings too! We have the Carolina chickadees too; I see them feeding in concert with the Black-crested titmice: usually the chickadees first at the feeder, then the titmice.

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  3. So sorry about the abandoned eggs! The comments about bluebirds brought back memories of harassment. I put up a house built to violet-green swallow specifications and indeed several showed up as I finished! But soon they were being harassed BY bluebirds (mountain), even though the bb’s were too big for the hole. I tossed rocks at them, to no avail. Fortunately the swallow house on the garage was ignored by the bb’s and the swallows nested there. So bluebirds can be jerks too 😉

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    • I guess “jerks” really is the operative word! It’s all about competition for space and defense of territory. I’ve tried the rock-tossing gambit–never works! 🙂

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  4. That really is a sad photo of the eggs. I suppose the good news is that nature will try, try again. I hope you have plenty of titmice at your feeders this year, and better luck next. I was intrigued by the information about the fishing line. Why it would affect one species more than another is one of those little mysteries we may never fully explain.

    I still remember the day I discovered the pretty mockingbird look-alike, the loggerhead shrike. I saw one sitting on a fence with a baby bird for breakfast, and couldn’t believe it. After I sorted out the species, and found that the shrike is not only a carnivorous songbird, but a stone-cold killer, I was even more amazed. Impaling prey on huisache thorns? Things are rough out there, no question about it.

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    • Those loggerhead shrikes–cold blooded killers, indeed! And they’re so cute!! I’ve only seen photos of their impaled prey, but what a way to go…
      I don’t get the fishing line thing either and for me (or rather, the titmice, it didn’t work).

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  5. Haven’t visited in a while, and very delightful to read about your usual dedication to birds and pollinators Tina 🙂 We should soon be engulfed in spring songs, just a little more patience….

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