Thursday, May 27, 2010

LOOK FOR: Tufted Titmice

Saturday morning, while we were sitting in a big patch of mountain laurel, we had a real treat: watching tufted titmice come repeatedly to and from their nest to feed their young.

tufted titmouse
One of the proud parents we saw on Saturday
These birds are in the DC area year-round, and they're fairly common at feeders. But if you can find a nest to watch right now, you'll be in for a treat. Tufted titmice tend to nest in holes in trees, either natural cavities or sometimes abandoned woodpecker holes. We were able to hear the babies chirping inside, and the parents were taking turns bringing in insects for them to eat.

As we do with many birds, we found our titmice from their calls, not because we knew where to look. Have a listen here and learn what to listen for. Many people think it sounds like they're saying Peter-Peter-Peter.

Once you've heard the call, you're looking for a pretty little grey bird with a "tuft" on its head -- feathers that come to a point on top. The breast and part of the face is white, with a big black eye.

Photo credit: Runner Jenny
In the wild: Tufted titmice can be found throughout deciduous woods and suburbs.

In your yard: Titmice are common at feeders; they like sunflower seeds. But most of their diet comes from insects, especially when they are feeding their young. So you can also attract them by planting native trees and plants, which support the insects. We see them frequently in our oak tree, even without a feeder.