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The Chickadee’s Charming Cousin

March 23, 2020

The Chickadee's Charming CousinWhat a treat seen frolicking around the wooded area east of the Birds in Flight sculpture…meet the tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor), the chickadee’s charming cousin!

These little ones are birds of the woodlands (and suburbs with mature trees), where they nest in cavities abandoned by woodpeckers. Eastern Iowa is near the far northwest edge of their range, which has steadily expanded over the past century due to a combination of an increase in favorable habitat, access to backyard feeders, and milder northern winters due to climate change.

Wide-eyed and curious, titmice will join in mobbing predators and will brazenly pluck fur from dogs, humans, and other much-larger mammals to line their nests. Despite their bravery in some situations, titmice are easily shooed away from feeders by most other bird species, including the seemingly gentle dark-eyed junco.

Listen for their high, clear peter peter peter song from the trees. They also have a chickadee-dee-dee warning call that sounds very much like that of chickadees, given when a predator is spotted. As with chickadees, the number of dee-dee-dees can vary depending on the type of predator.

In the winter, titmice will form small flocks, usually a mated pair occasionally joined by their offspring or other young birds. They can be seen feeding in the same area as chickadees, nuthatches, and downy woodpeckers, and are common visitors to feeders, where they enjoy peanuts and, especially, sunflower seeds (which they will adorably hold in their feet and peck to open the shell, sometimes caching the seeds in bark for later).

If you live in a neighborhood with large trees, keep an eye (and ear) out for these charismatic little birds. You won’t be disappointed!

Sources/more information:
Birds of North America: Tufted Titmouse
When 136 Bird Species Show Up at a Feeder, Which One Wins?

Originally published in Sycamore Greenway Friends.

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Melissa Serenda

A transplant from the suburbs of Chicago to the south side of Iowa City. I enjoy spending time on the Sycamore Greenway, picking up trash around my neighborhood, and the occasional game of cribbage.

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