Birds in Delaware

The Enthusiastic Tufted Titmouse


Illustration: Tufted TitmouseA PennState entomologist told me that he watched a tufted titmouse eat a full-size gypsy moth caterpillar. That amazes me because these birds are so diminutive, and have such delicate looking beaks

I have frequently seen them devour a good size caterpillar in the garden. But, a gypsy moth caterpillar, at its final stage of development or instar, is very hairy, and can reach 2 ½ to 3 inches in length.

Well, caterpillars are not the only insects our titmouse likes. These vivacious little wonders happily flit around the garden looking for beetles, ants, wasps, and sawfly larvae. They are also able to open moth cocoons.

Obviously eating all these garden pests make the titmouse a very beneficial bird. So, don't be upset if they get some bluberries or elderberries that you are growing. Just plant more!

Other fruits they eat are typical of the feeder birds–mulberries, wild cherries, sumac, alder, poison ivy, and bayberry.

They can even crack nuts. Acorns and beechnuts are favored. They hold the nuts under their feet while perched on a branch and open it with rapid blows from their bill.

No wonder they spend lots of time at the feeder; striped sunflower and other seeds are much easier to open! Titmice are frequently found feeding alongside the chickadee. Like the chickadee, these little birds are cavity nesters. They often use old woodpecker holes or man-made boxes.

Although I have never seen a titmouse nest, I am told the nesting material can be interesting. The titmouse will use easy-to-find materials like mosses, bark and even pieces of shed snakeskin. It will also utilize hair from mammals such as woodchuck and squirrel. I save my dog's hair after a groming and place it in clumps in tree crevices, or just toss it on the ground for the birds to utilize.

Both sexes look alike but only the female incubates. There are usually 5 to 6 white or creamy-white eggs, speckled with brown. Incubation goes on for 13 to 14 days. After the babies climb out of the nest at about 17 to 18 days, both parents feed the fledglings. In this area there are most likely two broods per season.

Our tufted titmouse is a wonderfully beneficial bird that is easily attracted to the feeder during the winter and helps us in the garden the rest of the year. They are full of personality and provide us with amusement through our windows in winter.

Article written by Beaty Broughton, a past coordinator of the Delaware Audubon Bluebird Project.