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tufted titmouse

Parus bicolor

What do they look like?

Tufted titmice are 15 to 17 cm long and have wingspans of 23 to 28 cm. Both males and females have white undersides, gray backs, rusty-brown sides, pointed crests on their heads, and large dark eyes.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Average mass
    21 g
    0.74 oz
  • Range length
    15 to 17 cm
    5.91 to 6.69 in
  • Range wingspan
    23 to 28 cm
    9.06 to 11.02 in

Where do they live?

Tufted titmice are only native to the Nearctic region. They are common east of the Great Plains in the woodlands of the southeastern, eastern, and midwestern United States, and in southern Ontario. Tufted titmice were once known only from the Ohio and Mississippi river drainages. Since the 1940's they have expanded throughout the eastern seaboard and now continue to expand their range northwards into Canada.

What kind of habitat do they need?

Tufted titmice prefer deciduous woodlands, especially moist woodlands found in swamps and river basins. They are also common in wooded residential areas and city parks.

How do they reproduce?

Breeding takes place between March and May. Five to eight brown-speckled, white eggs are layed in nests 3 to 90 feet above the ground. Nests are formed in natural tree cavities, abandoned woodpecker holes, bird boxes, hollow metal pipes, or fence posts. Nests are lined with soft materials such as wool, moss, cotton, leaves, bark, fur, or grass. Tufted Titmice have been known to pluck hairs from live woodchucks, squirrels, opossums, and humans near nest sites. Eggs are incubated by the female for 13 to 17 days, when the nestlings leave the nest cavity. Tufted titmice are able to breed in the year following their hatching.

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Tufted titmice breed during the warm months of the year, they may have one or two broods each season. The young of the first brood may help care for nestlings of the second brood.
  • Breeding season
    Tufted titmice breed from March to May.
  • Range eggs per season
    5 to 8
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    17 (high) days
  • Range fledging age
    17 to 18 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

Both parents feed the young nestlings. In the first 4 days after the young hatch, males feed them much more often than do females. After a while both parents share the job until the young are ready to leave the nest. It is not uncommon for the pair to have nest helpers. These may be their own young or other birds. They assist in feeding the nestlings.

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female

How long do they live?

The average lifespan of tufted titmice is 2.1 years. This number is relatively low because most tufted titmice die as nestlings. Once they reach adulthood, tufted titmice are likely to live for more than 2 years. The longest these birds have been know to live in the wild is 13 years.

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    13 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    2.1 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    159 months
    Bird Banding Laboratory

How do they behave?

Tufted titmice are active birds often seen flitting about in trees and hanging upside down while searching beneath twigs for insects. They are active during the daytime and do not migrate extensively, remaining in residence throughout the winter. They are fairly confident birds and can be trained to come at the sound of human voices and take food from their hands, though not as easily as their bold cousins, black-capped chickadees. They travel and roost during the winter in small flocks. Tufted titmice store food under bark or under objects on the ground. Males are dominant over females and they form pairs that persist until the death of one of the mates. Pairs separate from winter flocks in preparation for mating by February.

How do they communicate with each other?

Titmice calls sound like: "peto, peto, peto" or "peter, peter, peter", and "day-day-day". One can call them to you by imitating this call. There are 10 different known calls of tufted titmice. The calls are generally divided into 2 groups. One group is made up of calls that have a very low frequency and the others have a very high frequency. The three calls in the group of high-frequency calls are usually associated with agressive behavior. Tufted titmice also communicate among themselves using body posture and movements.

What do they eat?

Tufted titmice eat a wide variety of insect and invertebrate prey, including caterpillars, moths, flies, insect eggs, snails, and spiders. They also eat berries and seeds. They hold seeds under their feet on branches and crack them with their sharp bills. Tufted titmice are common at bird feeders where they eat seeds, especially sunflower seeds, suet, and other offerings.

  • Animal Foods
  • eggs
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • mollusks
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Tufted titmice nestlings are preyed upon by nest predators such as snakes, raccoons, skunks, opossums, and squirrels. Adults are preyed upon by cats and predatory birds such as hawks and owls. In the eastern United States the most common birds of prey that hunt tufted titmice are sharp-shinned hawks and Cooper's hawks. Tufted titmice give off high-pitched alarm calls when hawks are seen flying overhead.

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Tufted titmice nestlings are preyed upon by a number of animals. They also control insect populations and distribute nuts by carring them away to eat them.

Do they cause problems?

There are no negative impacts of tufted titmice on humans.

How do they interact with us?

Tufted titmice help to control the population of certain insects as well as helping trees by distributing their seeds.

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • controls pest population

Are they endangered?

Tufted titmice ar fairly common throughout the eastern United States.

Some more information...

Tufted titmice are also known as crested titmice, crested tomtits, pete birds, tufted chickadees and tufted tits. Black-crested titmice, found only in Texas and Oklahoma, were considered to be a separate species until 1983. They now are considered to be a subspecies of tufted titmice, Parus bicolor castaneifrons.


Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Robin Street (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.


Terres, J. 1980. The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Street, R. 1999. "Parus bicolor" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed February 27, 2024 at

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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