[Published in 1947: Smithsonian Institution United States National Museum Bulletin 191: 393-406]
As we travel southward, weary of the rigors of the northern winter and anxious to meet spring halfway, one of the first southern birds to greet us from the still leafless woods is this cheery little tomtit. Long before we reach the land of blooming jessamine, hibiscus, and oleanders, we may hear its loud whistling peto, peto, welcoming us to his home in the southland.
To the novice, these notes may at first seem to bear a resemblance to the three-syllabled notes of the Carolina wren or to the spirited whistles of the cardinal, which one hears so frequently all through the southern states. I have sometimes been puzzled, when hearing them for the first time each season, but one soon learns to recognize them, for all three are quite distinct. Being a rather noisy bird and rather somberly colored, the tufted titmouse is generally heard before it is seen, though it is not particularly shy. We may look for it with best success in the deciduous woods.
In Pennsylvania, near the northern limit of its range, according to Dr. Samuel S. Dickey, it is oftener found in beech timber, where its coloration harmonizes and where it finds congenial openings in trunks and branches for nesting purposes. "But it will inhabit a variety of cover in modern times, and is found among oaks, tulip poplars, yellow locusts, sycamore, and thickets of mixed saplings, as well as orchards."
In the Middle West and southward it frequents the river-bottom forests in spring and summer but wanders about at other seasons in more open areas, among the shade trees and about houses in the villages. In the Gulf states and Florida it is often found in the live oaks, which shade the streets of villages and towns, but its favorite haunts are the mixed hammocks and the smaller cypress swamps that are scattered through the flat pine woods; it is seldom seen in these flat woods outside of these little cypress heads.
Courtship.--After wandering about all through fall and winter in small flocks by themselves, or mixed with other species, they begin their courtship activities early in spring and prepare to separate into pairs. Dr. Dickey says that "males pursue and chase females among branches and often end up in brush piles. They will glide between avenues of trees along the courses of streams. Sometimes pairs thus continue up to the forest-clothed flanks of slopes and cliffs. Males are combative, and are seen clasping and falling among vegetation. They will end up on the forest floor, there to part company and to continue their advances to the female of their choice."
Nesting.--As I have never been fortunate enough to find a nest of the tufted titmouse, I must rely on the observations of others. Dr. Dickey writes to me, of the nesting habits in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, as follows: "Naturally tufted tits breed inside cavities, mostly in trees. They utilize both live and dead growth, often cavities that are surrounded with hard resistant wood. A number like to breed in knot holes, slits left where lightning has struck, and long weathered squirrels' holes. Not a few pairs inhabit the abandoned holes of downy, hairy, red-bellied, red-headed, and pileated woodpeckers and the cavities of the flicker. I have three records of their breeding in crude wooden bird boxes in town yards; and one instance was a hollow metal pipe, 4 inches in diameter, beside the yard of a farmhouse."
He thinks this bird shows a preference for beech trees for nesting sites, but he has found nests in white, red, and blue oaks, tupelos, sycamores, pines, hemlocks, apple trees, mulberries, water and sugar maples, yellow locusts, white ashes, and chestnuts. "It will come out from cover and nest in fence posts along roads and borders of fields, and occasionally it selects some stub or post in an open pasture. The run of pairs prefer the woods in which to breed, but not a few enter and nest in orchards, groves, parks, and even shade trees along community streets. Nests are found at both low and high elevations; they range from 3 feet up to as many as 85 or 90 feet. They will continue to use the identical cavity for years, if unmolested.
"Nest building begins late in April, although birds are seen to carry odd leaves and trash into holes even as early as late in March. They begin by carrying in strips of bark and dead deciduous leaves; those of white oak and maple are common. Then they add sprays of green moss and dry grass, and round out the interior with pads of hair from cattle, rabbit, deer mouse, and others, and bits of rags, strings, or cloth."
In South Carolina, according to Wayne (1910), "this species deposits its eggs in natural cavities of trees or in the deserted holes of the smaller woodpeckers and does not appear to excavate a hole for itself. It seems to have a preference for hollows in chinquapin or dogwood trees, and the hole ranges from four to forty-five feet above the ground. While nest-building, the birds carry large quantities of material at every trip and one generally accompanies the other to and from the site. The nest is composed of wool, cotton, hair, leaves, fibrous bark and snake skins, the last material being indispensable to this species, as it is to the Crested Flycatcher. . . . The birds are the closest of sitters and have to be removed from the nest before it can be examined. Only one brood is raised and these follow the parents for many months."
Mr. Wayne (1910) also tells of an unsuccessful attempt of a pair of these titmice to nest in a tuft of Spanish moss. The nest was built in a very large mass of hanging moss (Tillandsia usneoides) and five eggs were laid, but a violent rainstorm occurred and the nest and eggs were blown out. The bird was undismayed, rebuilt the nest again in the same bunch of moss, and laid three eggs; but she was disappointed again, for another storm came up before the set was completed, and the nest and eggs were found on the ground the following day.
M. G. Vaiden, of Rosedale, Miss., reports an unusually lofty nest of the tufted titmouse that was located in a cavity of a black locust near there some 97 feet above the ground. Another nest was found in a gatepost about 8 feet up; it was composed of horsehair and a few feathers.
The nesting cavities occupied by this titmouse vary greatly in size and shape, which means that in some cases a large quantity of material has to be collected to fill up extra space. C. S. Brimley (1888) mentions a nest that he found in a hollow in a small dogwood, near Raleigh, N.C. "The opening of the hollow was about two feet from the ground, and the hollow reached to the earth, but for half the distance three sides of it were gone. So the birds had piled up moss, leaves, etc., from the ground right up into the hole and then lined the nest at the top with white cat fur and a few pieces of snakeskin, the eggs being at least eighteen inches from the bottom of the nest."
The material used to fill up large cavities consists largely of leaves, preferably those that are damp enough to pack well without crumbling, but not too wet; these are picked up near a brook, or in some damp place in the woods. Lucy H. Upton (1916) made an interesting observation on the use of damp leaves by a titmouse that she was watching: "Having chosen a damp brown oak leaf from the ground, it flew with it into a bare tree, and, holding the leaf with its claw firmly against the branch, it drew itself to its full height, raised its head like a Woodpecker, and with all the might of its tiny frame gave a forcible blow to the leaf with its bill. This process was kept up nearly half an hour. . . . At last its purpose seemed to be accomplished. It rested, and lifted the leaf by the petiole. We then saw that the hammering had made it into a firm brown ball nearly as large as an oak gall."
The bird flew away with the leaf and probably placed it in its nest.
Freda L. Hood (1916) adds by way of explanation, that these birds "line their nests with a pulpy substance not unlike a sponge. They carry a large number of these damp leaf-balls into their nest-hole and there pull them into shreds. . . . The Titmouse uses this sort of lining for its nest only when they build in damp weather. They do not seem to be able to use dry leaves in this manner."
R. B. McLaughlin (1888) adds that about moist places "she gets a supply of green moss and mixes in a modicum of dirt. After she has accumulated the desired amount of such materials, we will find her at the bed of the flying squirrel (Pteromys volucella), or some other mammal which collects the thin inner bark of trees, and she does not hesitate to appropriate as much as she needs. Then she is off for the farmer's barn, and any bunch of cornsilks about his granary is used. Again she is over where he curried his horse or butchered his pig, in quest of hair."
But the titmouse is not content with picking up stray hairs, or even bunches of fur from dead animals, and often becomes bold enough to collect this needed nesting material from living mammals, including human beings.
J. Harris Reed (1897) noticed a tufted titmouse that was apparently trying to drive a red squirrel away. "The squirrel was lying flat on the upper side of a large sloping limb, and the Titmouse would approach cautiously from behind and catch at its tail. It was not long before I noticed that the bird had collected quite a mouthful of the hairs, with which it flew off to a hole near by where it was deposited."
Ward Reed (1927) writes: "While walking through the woods looking for Crows' nests about the first of May, I came upon an unusual sight. On a branch of a tree a few feet from the ground sat a Woodchuck (Marmota monax), while bobbing up and down above it a Tufted Titmouse was engaged in plucking hair from its back.On a nearby twig the bird's mate was perched, with its mouth already full of hair, and in a few minutes they flew away together."
Mrs. Vitae Kite (1925) generously allowed an aggressive titmouse to help himself to some of her silvery locks. "Without the least warning he lit squarely on top of my head, giving me such a start that it was with great difficulty I controlled myself and sat still. At first I thought he was trying to frighten me away but soon changed my mind, when he began working and pulling at my hair with all his might. Now my hair has been very white for many years, but I still have plenty of it, and was more than willing to divide it with this little bird, so I steadied myself and 'held fast' while that energetic 'Tom' had the time of his life gathering 'wool' to line his nest, for that was what I now felt sure he was doing. He didn't seem to have much luck with the coils on top, so he worked around over my ear, where there were short loose hairs, and I could hear and feel him snip-snip as he severed them--not one by one, but in bunches, it seemed to me."
*** E. Irwin Smith (1924) had a similar experience. He was seated on a stump on the edge of some woods, with his hat off, when he noticed a titmouse flitting about his head. "It flew back into the bushes, only to return and flutter above my head as before. Yet the third time it came back, but this time, instead of flying away again, it lit on my head, and, in a very diligent manner, began to pick the hairs therefrom. The pricking of its sharp little toes on my scalp and the vigor of the hair-pulling was a trifle too much for my self-control, and I instinctively moved my head. Away it flew, but only for a moment, and then it was back at work, harder than before."
Other somewhat similar cases have been reported, but the above will suffice to illustrate this strange habit.
Eggs.--Four to eight eggs may be found in the nest of the tufted titmouse, but oftener there are either five or six. The eggs vary from ovate (commonly) to elongate-ovate, and there is practically no gloss. The ground color is usually pure white, but often creamy white, or rarely pale "cream color." They are generally more or less evenly speckled all over the entire surface with very small spots or fine dots; often these markings are thickest at the larger end, where they are sometimes concentrated into a wreath; rarely this concentration is at the small end. The markings are in various browns, "hazel," "cinnamon-rufous," "vinaceous-rufous," "burnt sienna," or "chestnut"; some eggs have a few underlying shell markings of "lilac-gray" or "drab-gray." The measurements of 50 eggs average 18.4 by 14.1 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 20.7 by 13.5, 18.5 by 14.7, 16.8 by 14.0, and 17.0 by 12.7 millimeters.
Young.--Dr. Dickey tells me that in several nests that he watched the period of incubation proved to be "exactly 12 days" and he says that young remain in the cavity 15 or 16 days. A young bird, 4 days old, had a light salmon-pink body, with eyes only partly open, and was naked except for "feather tufts of dusky grey down" on the top of the head, at the base of the skull and in the middle of the back. When 6 days old, the "body had blue-gray down and rows of conspicuous slate-blue pin-feather shafts"; the eyes were now open. Two days later, "the gray down was falling away from head and sides; the back mouse-gray; the flanks under back of wings tinged with light brown; pin-feather scabbards of wings not entirely unsheathed, but fast disintegrating." When ten days old, the young were well feathered and closely resembled the adults, but they remained in the nest five days more.
Mrs. Margaret Morse Nice (1931) writes: "In the Wichita Reserve, June 6, 1926, we discovered we had fastened our tent to a black jack in a cavity of which five fully feathered titmice were housed; happily the parents accepted the situation with equanimity. I watched the nest from 2 to 4 p.m. the first day, from 10:40 to 12:10 the next. Despite the hot weather mother Tit brooded 3 and 8 minutes the first day, 8 and 15 the next, father in the meantime giving the food he brought to her. Both birds kept their crests depressed, both often twitched their wings--the female more than her mate--and both used a great variety of notes. During the first two hours 18 meals were given, during the last hour and a half, seven."
I cannot find it definitely so stated, but apparently incubating and brooding devolve mainly, if not wholly, on the female. Both sexes help to feed the young for some time after they leave the nest, and both young and old travel about together in a family party during summer, until they all join the mixed parties of their own and other species that roam the woods during fall and winter.
Plumages.--The young nestling is mainly naked, except for a scanty covering of dusky, or bluish gray, down on the head and back. The development of the first plumage is outlined above. In full juvenal plumage, when it leaves the nest, the young is much like the adult, but all its colors are duller and less distinct, and the plumage is softer, less compact. The crest is not fully developed; the forehead is dusky rather than black and not so clearly defined against the gray of the crest and the white of the sides of the head; and the sides and flanks are tinged with pinkish buff, instead of the richer brown of the adult. A partial postjuvenal molt takes place in August, or later, which involves the contour plumage and the wing coverts, but not the rest of the wings or the tail. In this first winter plumage, young and old are practically indistinguishable; the crest is distinct, the forehead is black, the sides of the head are more decidedly white, and the sides and flanks have become a deep "russet" or "Mars brown." There is apparently no spring molt. Adults have one complete annual, postnuptial molt in August. Adults in fresh fall plumage are more or less tinged with olive-brownish on the back and with pale buffy brownish on the chest. The sexes are practically alike in all plumages, but the colors of the adult female are usually somewhat duller than those of the male.
Food.--The 186 stomachs of the tufted titmouse examined by Professor Beal (Beal, McAtee, and Kalmbach, 1916) were irregularly distributed throughout the year and were considered by him too few "to afford more than an approximation of the bird's economic worth." However, the results show that, so far as his investigation goes, the bird is beneficial and has no bad food habits to offset the good it does.
The food consisted of 66.57 percent animal matter and 33.43 percent vegetable. He says that the food "includes one item, caterpillars, which form more than half the animal food, and two items, caterpillars and wasps, which are more than half of the whole food." Beetles make up 7.06 percent, of which only one-tenth of 1 percent are useful species; the cotton-boll weevil was found in four stomachs. Ants are eaten occasionally, and other hymenopterous food, bees, wasps, and sawfly larvae, amounted to 12.5 percent. Other items include stink bugs, treehoppers, scales, only one fly, eggs of katydids, egg cases of cockroaches, spiders (found in 40 stomachs examined in May, 12.67 percent, only a trace in June, and in 3 stomachs in July, 16.33 percent, evidently a makeshift food), and a few snails. Caterpillars are the largest item, 38.31 percent of the whole food for the year. No grasshoppers or crickets were found.
Of the vegetable food, corn was discovered in one stomach, evidently taken on trial. Fruit was eaten to a moderate extent (5.15 percent), mostly in mid-summer, and included raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries, which might have been of cultivated varieties, but probably were not. The wild fruits were such as grow by the wayside and in swamps, as elderberries, hackberries, blueberries, huckleberries, and mulberries. Seeds of various kinds, as sumac--including poison ivy--bayberry, or wax myrtle, aggregate 4.07 percent. It is difficult to draw the line between broken seeds and mast in stomachs of the tufted tit, but, together considered as mast, these form more than two-thirds of the vegetable food. While largely composed of acorns, there is no doubt that chinquapins and beechnuts and many smaller seeds enter into its composition. As thus defined, mast amounts of 23.4 percent of the whole food, comprising 95 percent of that eaten in November, 50.42 percent in January, and 55.97 percent in February; in fact, it is the principal vegetable food eaten from August to February. That such small birds should crush such hard nuts as acorns and chinquapins is surprising, but the broken fragments found in the stomachs well demonstrate their ability.
M. P. Skinner (1928) writes:
During the winter at least [in North Carolina], the favorite food of Titmice is the acorns supplied by the innumerable shrub oaks, post oaks and turkey oaks. From January to March, I found them hunting acorns, occasionally on the ground, but generally in the trees themselves. Quite often they knocked the acorn from its twig and then flew down to the ground after it. Titmice do not open their bills wide enough to admit the whole acorn, but they sometimes pick it up by its stem, or more often they simply spear the nut with their sharp, closed bill and fly up to a limb with it that way. Once on a suitable limb, the acorn is firmly held between the bird's two feet and strong downward blows are rained upon it. This hammering is rapid and very effective, so that it does not take long to scale off the shell, and then the soft interior meat is eaten in small pieces. . . . At times they spring out after insects flying by them, and sometimes they tear the tent nests of caterpillars to pieces. On February 11, 1927, near the Mid Pines Club, a Titmouse picked up an oak apple an inch or more in diameter, carried it in its bill to the crotch of a tree and there dug through its half inch of tough material to feed on the hundred or so small white grubs in the center.
Dr. H. C. Oberholser (1896) saw one hammering away at a half-punctured cocoon of a Polyphemus moth. B. J. Blincoe (1923) saw one feeding on cultivated Concord grapes. Dr. Dickey has seen it catching flying insects, including a small butterfly or moth; the wings of Lepidoptera are torn off and only the soft body is eaten. He includes wild cherries and service-berries in the food. Others have added dogwood berries and those of the Virginia creeper. In winter, titmice will come readily to feeding stations to eat suet and bread and doughnut crumbs; a dish of water will also attract them. Mabel Gillespie (1930) says that the berries of the Japanese honeysuckle, alder seeds, and the seeds of tulip tree pods are favorite foods.
A. L. Pickens writes to me: "They are among the friendliest of all our southern birds, exceeding the Carolina chickadee by far. I have taught several individuals to take food from my hand. The great drawback is that they are so thrifty that they empty a food box and store all the surplus food before the more backward chickadees, wrens, and nuthatches arrive. For the last two forms I was able to overcome this difficulty by using a block instead of a box for the food. In this block I bored holes with a small auger. Then at the bottom of the holes I placed bits of nuts, and the wrens and nuthatches, with their longer beaks, were able to reach deeper than the titmice and so retrieve the food."
Behavior.--This lively little titmouse is one of the most popular of the southern birds, with its active, vivacious manners, as it flits about in the foliage of the trees, often hanging head downward from some terminal cluster of leaves, or clings to the trunks and branches, searching in the crevices of the bark for its insect food. It attracts attention and endears itself to us with its tame, confiding manners, as it is not at all shy, but comes freely into our orchards and our gardens, even close to houses, and partakes of our hospitality at our feeding stations; it appears utterly fearless of human presence. As Edmund W. Arthur (Todd, 1940) says:
We should probably ascribe to him without hesitation the first place in our hearts. He presents many claims to the rank of first nobleman of the forest realm. His presence is genial and pleasing, his plumage attractive, his alertness conspicuous; and his habits are good. . . .
Each pair of tufted titmice has a domain of its own during mating season. Over this the birds exercise a jealous sway, at least in so far as errant titmice are concerned. Enter upon this domain and without too much fuss begin to whistle the titmouse challenge. Directly you will excite vigorous replies from the lord of the manor. If you persist--and you probably will--he will approach within a few feet of you. If you carry in your hand a hat or a sizable piece of dark cloth or a box, his lordship seems to think you have another bird in captivity. He will shake himself as if with rage, or in defiance, and drop, scolding, almost within arm's length, where as long as you continue to answer him, he will remain to scold and protest.
At other times, too, these inquisitive birds show their curiosity by reacting to the sound of human voices. Dr. Dickey tells me that they are "seen to react to the voices and noises made by road workers, drillers and farmers. They hurry forward from shelter in twos or threes. Even when a visitor calls at the door of a house and starts to talk, then the titmouse arrives, evidently curious at a stranger in its habitat. I sometimes hesitate to wonder if such birds do not discriminate between the natives and strangers, for they have a sagacity that is hard to fathom."
Mabel Gillespie (1930) gives them credit for great intelligence and individuality about her banding traps. She says that they quickly learned how to find their way out of the traps, "with no time lost in searching about for the entrance." They repeatedly entered the trap, picked up some food, and went out again immediately, time after time. She says that she could not confuse them, as she often did other birds, by running toward the trap; for "approaching danger seems only to stimulate their keenness and composure, for they they most containedly and successfully seek the exit at the first hint of hazard." She thinks that this ability to find the exit so quickly is due to accuracy of memory, and relates the following incident to illustrate it: "During one night there was a fall of very soft snow, with a succeeding drop in temperature. The traps were all removed but one lest they should become frozen in the ice crust. After the freezing the outline of each trap was clearly visible in the crust. A Titmouse was seen to fly to the ground at the spot directly in front of the outlined mark of an entrance funnel. This showed that the bird clearly remembered the location of the funnel. Then, however, just as it was about the run forward, it appeared to realize that the trap was not there. The food was directly in front of the bird with no intervening obstruction. Yet the bird hesitated, looked about, and observed that another trap was in its accustomed place. It flew to this trap and entered for food."
The above incident does illustrate accuracy of memory, but it also indicates suspicion of food under unusual conditions, or a sense of security in taking food from traps, based on past experience.
The tufted titmouse is quick and active in all its movements, flitting upward among the branches or gliding down between them, but it seldom indulges in long flights; its short flights from tree to tree, or across an open space, are undulating, irregular, much like that of a chickadee, it seems to me; but Dr. Dickey calls it "rather precise; the short, rounded wings and well spread tail, with vibrating vanes, press the atmosphere." It reminds him somewhat of the flight of the blue jay.
Voice.--The notes of the tufted titmouse are many and varied, mostly loud and generally pleasing; it is a noisy bird. Aretas A. Saunders has sent me the following excellent notes on the subject: "The loud, whistled call of the tufted titmouse, commonly translated as peto, peto, is in about the same status as song as the phoebe whistle of the chickadee. That is, it is used by both sexes and, apparently, at almost any season of the year. Also, like the chickadee, the birds respond to an imitation and come to the imitator very readily.
"The song is loud, clear, and lower-pitched than the chickadee's phoebe. It is also quite variable; I have a number of records and no two of them are alike. The song consists of a two-note phrase, repeated over and over three to eleven times, according to my records. The two-note phrase is more frequently with the first note high and the second low. The interval between may be one, one and one-half, or two tones. The pitch of the notes varies in different songs, or different individuals, from A" to A"', that is, between the highest of two A's on the piano. The majority of songs in my records are between E"' and C"'. "Sometimes the two-note phrase sounds like peto, at other times like wheedle or taydle. When the pitch goes up, instead of down, the phrase is commonly written daytee; the same pitches and pitch intervals are common but it often sounds like toolee, and sometimes the first note is short, and it is like tleet or tlit. I have recorded all these variations in the field, writing down what each particular song sounded like to me at the time it was heard.
"An occasional phrase slurs down, like teeoh, and there are rarely phrases of three notes, such as wheedleoh, or of one note, whee, each repeated a number of times. Sometimes a song begins or ends with notes unlike the rest, as tidi, waytee, waytee, waytee, etc., or wheedle, wheedle, wheedle, whee, whee."
Dr. Dickey mentions a number of slightly different interpretations of some of the above notes, and adds some that are quite different, such as piper-tee, piper-tee, piper-tee; ah-peer, ah-peer; chee-chu, chee-chep; and wheep-did-er-ee, ending with purty-purty-purty.
Nuttall (1832) devotes considerable space to the voice of the tufted titmouse, and aptly remarks that "though his voice, on paper, may appear to present only a list of quaint articulations. . .yet the delicacy, energy, pathos, and variety of his simple song, like many other things in nature, are far beyond the feeble power of description." He mentions a very lively and agreeable call of 'whip-tom-killy-killy; and then, "in a lower, hoarser, harsh voice, and in a peevish tone, exactly like that of the Jay and the Chickadee, day-day-day-day, and day-day-day-day-dait; sometimes this loud note changed into one which became low and querulous. On some of these occasions he also called 'tshica dee-dee. The jarring call would then change occasionally into kai-tee-did did-dit-did."
Several other observers have noted the resemblance of some of these notes to the notes of the Carolina chickadee. The single whistled call sounds like the whistle of a man calling his dog. It can readily be seen from a study of the above interpretations how easy it is for a novice to confuse the voice of the titmouse with that of the Carolina wren, the chickadee, or even the cardinal. All observers agree that the titmouse is a loud and persistent singer for nearly all the year; it is a joy to hear it tuning up in January, when so many other birds are silent. The song increases in frequency and intensity when the nuptial season approaches in February; early in spring its oft-repeated peto note is given so constantly that it may become monotonous and even tiresome. No wonder that the bird is locally known as the "Peter bird."
Field marks.--The tufted titmouse may be recognized as a small gray bird, less than English sparrow size, with a prominent, blackish crest, and chestnut-brown flanks. The colors are duller in the female than in the male, but otherwise they are much alike. Mr. Skinner (1928) suggests that "its big black eyes show a strong contrast to its trim gray plumage. . . . When the crest lies back on the crown, its long feathers stick out behind so that it is noticeable then as well as when erect."
Enemies.--Titmice are doubtless subject to attack by the ordinary enemies of all small birds, cats, hawks, owls, and snakes, but published records are not plentiful. The enterprising cowbird finds and enters the nesting cavity to deposit its unwelcome egg occasionally. Dr. Friedmann (1929) records four cases, and probably others that have occurred since, but sometimes the entrance hole is too small for the parasite to enter.
Harold S. Peters (1936) lists, as external parasites on the tufted titmouse, two lice (Myrsidea incerta and Philopterus sp.), a mite (Trombicula irritans), and a tick (Hoemaphysalis leporis-palustris).
Fall and Winter.--Mabel Gillespie (1930), referring to the vicinity of Glenolden, Pa., writes: "During the late spring, summer, and early fall, Titmice tend to disappear. This disappearance indicates a period of retirement during nesting and the subsequent annual molt. At this season the birds are in the secluded depths of the woods and are unaccustomedly silent. In the fall they appear in small groups, which, as far as they can be counted, vary from two to at least six. Presumably there is more or less wandering at this time, but the tendency apparently is to choose a favorable location in which to spend the winter, and then to remain within a rather limited area. . . . In winter small groups suggesting family units occupy very definite and limited areas, never overlapping."
This last statement hardly agrees with the observations of several others; for instance, Dr. Dickey, referring to Pennsylvania and West Virginia, says: "Particularly in autumn and winter, tufted tits are rovers. They tend to assemble with such birds as Carolina chickadees, cardinals, various sparrows, several local woodpeckers, Carolina wrens, goldfinches, tree sparrows, and juncos. Bands of such species enter patches of weeds, flit along the courses of streams, cross country roads and highways, and peer forth from cover at farm yards. I was interested during my many trips among these birds in fall and winter, to learn that often individuals roost, or spend dark drab days, inside orifices of woodpeckers and in natural cavities of posts and stubs. Not long ago I came upon a tit; it was drowsy and almost could be taken in the hand. Whether the species invariably roosts in such manner at night, I do not know, but I have read of campers routing the birds from holes in stubs."
Several other observers have reported winter wanderings of titmice in association with such other species of winter gleaners as are named above. Mr. Skinner (1928) says that, in North Carolina in winter, "sometimes these Titmice seem to join with Chickadees, Juncos or White-throated Sparrows. With Fox Sparrows, Field Sparrows, Blue Jays, Cardinals and Myrtle Warblers, their association is probably only accidental and very temporary."
Tufted titmice are practically permanent residents in even the
more northern portions of their range, being regularly found in
winter as far north as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and
Illinois. Though largely woodland birds at all seasons, gleaning
their food from the trunks and branches of trees, or rustling
among the leaves on the ground, they are more inclined in winter
to roam about in the open, or visit the neighborhood houses, along
with the chickadees and blue jays, to pick up scraps of refuse, or
visit the well-stocked feeding stations. On the feeding shelf the
tit seems to be the dominant character; only the blue jay refuses
to make way for him.
Tufted Titmouse* Parus bicolor
*Original Source: Bent, Arthur Cleveland. 1947. Smithsonian Institution United States National Museum Bulletin 191: 393-406. United States Government Printing Office