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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There are no negative impacts of tufted titmice on humans.
Tufted titmice help to control the population of certain insects as well as helping trees by distributing their seeds.
Tufted titmice ar fairly common throughout the eastern United States.
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.