Sweet ‘Lil Bird

I have no idea if this little fella is actually sweet, but he’s definitely cute.

Really cute.

This is a Black-crested TitmouseBaeolophus atricristatus, and these charming birds are residents in Central Texas;  several are daily visitors to my garden.  Black-crested Titmice range from Central Texas to northern Mexico and are comfortable and common in urban settings.  Tiny song birds with loud and melodious voices, their diet consists of insects, especially caterpillars, but they’ll also favor feeders.

Titmice in my garden enjoy the black-oiled sunflowers, but recently I purchased a peanut feeder and it’s become the premier dining choice of titmice customers.

You’ll notice that the bird in this photo looks slightly different from the one in the previous photos; notably, this titmouse doesn’t have a black crest.  As there’s some color differentiations between the two and that I’ve observed courting behavior, I assume the two are mates.  I figured that this not black-crested titmouse is female and the other one–sporting the jaunty, black crest–is male.  After researching both Audubon and Cornell Lab of Ornithology sources, I now think that the presumed female is in fact, a Tufted TitmouseBaeolophus bicolor, or possibly a hybrid between the Black-crested and Tufted. The Tufted Titmice spans a greater range in North America than does the more geographically limited Black-crested Titmice, but these two distinct species share overlapping territory in Texas and breed successfully, creating hybrid offspring.  In past years, the titmice in my neighborhood that I’ve observed have all been of the Black-crested sort, so I think that this bit of Tufted Titmouse is a new thing in my garden.

Aside from the lack of black crest, the Tufted also show black coloring above their beaks, whereas on the Black-crested, the same area is white to cream-colored.  In this series of shots, the female is a bit darker above the beak than is her male partner.

What’s not to love about that face?

Even without the black crest, she’s darling!  In these shots, she was resting in a shrub just above where the black-oiled sunflower feeder hangs, biding her time and keeping watch for a safe foray to pop down and snatch a seed.

Success! She flew to the feeder, grabbed a seed, and flew back again to foliaged safety, pounding the seed open, then gobbling the meat inside.

Aside from partaking of seeds and peanuts, titmice hop along the branches of trees–right side up and upside down–eating a variety of insects.  When I spot that, I usually forgo the camera and grab the binoculars, as their acrobatics are quite fun to watch, even when they are partly hidden by foliage.

Last spring, I wrote about a pair of Titmice who built a nest in a nest box in my front garden.  Alas, the local House Sparrows bullied and harassed them until they abandoned that nest.  Late in spring, I cleaned out the nest box and there were three little speckled eggs.  Sniff.

A rare, quiet moment for this titmouse. They’re always on the move–hopping and fluttering from place to place. They are busy birds.

A puff of wind ruffles the crest, but it’s still a good feather day!

This spring, I haven’t witnessed any birds who are interested in that nest box, but I’m sure the pair who visit my garden are nesting somewhere in the neighborhood.  They typically choose tree holes, or empty woodpecker holes, as well as settling in nest boxes–except mine, it seems.  Grrr!

One of the hallmarks of titmice nests is that they use animal fur for lining.  There are videos of titmice pulling fur from wild animals and dogs and it’s adorable to watch these wee scamps raiding mammals’ coats!  Relatives of the Titmice, Black-capped Chickadees and Carolina Chickadees, also use fur in their nests.  Many backyard birders, myself included, place pets’ fur in our gardens (I use a suet feeder filled with some of my cats’ fur) for songbird nest-building.

Consider the irony of a cat’s fur serving as a nursery bed for a baby bird!

Only use animal fur though; never, ever put out human hair or yarn for birds’ nest-building.  The hair and yarn can wrap around birds’ legs, tangling the afflicted in trees or shrubbery.  Yarn and human hair have are also blamed for causing accidental amputation of birds’ legs, with obviously poor outcomes for the victims.

The adult titmice and their offspring are year-round residents and in the coming weeks and months, I’ll see the parents and juveniles engage in how-to-be-a-titmouse lessons.  By autumn, the babies will be grown and off on their own, searching for a mate to usher in the next generation.

Black-crested, Tufted, or hybrid, I’m glad these darling birds are around.  Their morning songs are often the first thing I hear upon waking and their beauty graces my garden.

37 thoughts on “Sweet ‘Lil Bird

  1. The titmice are some of our favorite local residents. They seem to hang out in a mixed mini-flock with a handful of chickadees, typically all showing up at the feeder here at once.

    A question about animal fur for nests?

    I’d abstained from putting our cat’s (considerable!) shed fur out for birds because of the systemic flea/tick medicine we give them. I read if you are dosing your pets their fur might hold some of the active ingredients (neurotoxins) and could pose a danger to small birds. Do you know if that is a necessary precaution?

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    • Yes, Chickadees and Titmice hang out together. Interestingly, I seem to only have one chickadee coming into my back garden and I haven’t heard the male’s signature territorial song around my house, though I hear it elsewhere in the ‘hood.

      Your question is an excellent one and I didn’t even think about it while I pondered the post. I seem to recall reading that it’s not a good idea to place “treated” fur, though I don’t remember where I read it. I don’t treat the cats–we just haven’t had a need for that, maybe they’re indoors just enough? I don’t know, but they haven’t had fleas or ticks–ever. But I did treat my Asher dog with a heartworm/flea/tick neck med and I sometimes put his fur out. I only put the fur out in early spring; I’ve never actually seen any birds take fur, but this spring, the fur looked like it had been messed with, so maybe someone snatched some??

      When I cleaned out the titmice nest last spring, the fur that was in there looked like opossum fur to me and that would make sense. We have a few around. 🙂 There was also pollen/catkins/ soft leaves. They’re resourceful little things.

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  2. You got some impressive shots, considering they never hold still. I need to look carefully and see which kind I have. I think Tufted. I did not know about the animal fur. That practice seems difficult.

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    • They’re hard to catch, but I think chickadees are even more difficult. Hummingbirds are the hardest!!

      I put the fur out only for a brief time; inevitably, rain comes and then it’s gross. 🙂

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  3. I had no idea there was a black-crested titmouse. I’ve only ever seen the tufted titmice, and they’re darling birds. Your photos are wonderful. Both species always seem to me to have such a startled expression on their faces.

    I saw a video years ago of a bluejay pulling hair from a pet dog. Whether that’s common behavior for bluejays, I don’t know, but it was hilarious to watch.

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    • They do look surprised, but they have such sweet little faces. I just wanna give a kiss. 🙂

      That’s interesting about the blue jays; I guess stealing fur is more widespread than I knew. Bet that fur is nice for the chicks!

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  4. Very cute! I’d have guessed female to the male for the tufted titmouse and probably not looked further, so nice research on your part and a tick for new visitor. I put out Sadie’s fur for nesting material (I could probably supply the neighbourhood in all honesty), but I’ve never seen any taken.

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    • That’s funny about Sadie providing so much, but I know how that is! As for the the titmouse, I’ve had them in my garden for years, and it dawned on me that the female was difffernt. Added to that, I’m on Facebook’s Birds of Texas group (birders are…obsessive) and have learned so much! Others have noted the hybrid titmouse and it flinally rang the bird bell for me.

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  5. I don’t normally stop for birds, but that dude really is cute. He looks familiar too, but I don’t know why. The species that is native here looks nothing like that. If there were any of a similar species in Oklahoma in winter, I was not looking for them.

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      • Would they have been gone in winter? I happen to remember a few others just because they were so unfamiliar. Several species seemed to be there in winter. I saw the only cardinal that I have ever seen while there. It was crazy red! The weirdest and yet most familiar though were seagulls. That was the farthest I had ever been from an ocean, and there were seagulls; and they looked no different from those here. I know that those on the coast of Texas are different, but I could not see the differences.

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      • From the map I saw on the Cornell site, it looks like they live in Oklahoma year round, except for a sliver in the western part of the state.

        Cardinals are very, very red! And yes, seagulls do fly long distances, I think.

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  6. I can’t identify many birds but these little ones have been bouncing off the windows at work (eating silk worms, I theorized.) I don’t know where their name came from when it popped into my head, but there you have it.

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    • I imagine they’re gobbling up all sorts of wormies–they have hungry chicks to feed. I read once that chickadees feed about 5000 caterpillar to their babies, I imagine the same, or similar, is true for titmice.

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      • These little ones are always in trees–I don’t think I’ve ever seen on on the ground. Too bad, but I imagine something else will eat those caterpillars??? 🙂

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