This is a series of articles about the birds that visit my backyard feeders and that are seen around my yard this winter. Please share any photographs or observations from your feeders with us on the Friends website (www.friendsebec.com) by emailing them to friends.ebec@gmail.com.

The small gray and white Tufted titmouse with its big black eyes and short little crest is one of our most easily recognizable, common and animated feeder birds. It is very acrobatic and constantly on the move. Although its always a bad idea to anthropomorphize wildlife behaviors, the large black eyes give it an inquisitive look and this seems to match its personality. It is often the first bird to respond to "spishing" or any other kind of bird alarm activity and they never seem to stay in one place for more than a few seconds. They are very acrobatic, often hanging upside down, bouncing between branches or dangling from the end of small twigs that don't seem capable of supporting their weight. At the feeders they grab a seed and go. They are seed hoarders in the fall and winter and typically cache seeds in safe places to eat at a later time when food is in short supply.

Tufted titmice nest in holes in dead branches and trees. But they don't excavate their own nest hole. Instead they rely on abandoned woodpecker holes for their nest cavities. Without these old nest holes they have no place to breed. So it is important to think about leaving some appropriate dead snags and dead trees to insure they have a place to nest. They line the nest cup with all kinds of fine hairs and fur and scientists have reported everything from raccoon fur to human hair. Tufted titmice are year round residents in East Brunswick and can be easily found in any neighborhood with lots of trees or any of our wooded parks. Check out the Friends Online Guide to our local Parks for places to look for them (http://www.friendsebec.com/parks).  

Tufted titmice hold a special place for me, because their call is our "family whistle" and apparently has been for at least three generations now. Their call is a simple whistle that sounds just like "peter, peter, peter" and is simple to mimic. My father always used it to locate us in a crowd or store, his father apparently did the same, and my family uses it all the time when we can't find each other. We often get strange looks when we whistle it, but it never fails to help us find each other. Amazingly, while walking around SOHO in New York City last weekend I heard "peter, peter, peter" from somewhere along the street. As it turned out a young woman had whistled it to her "misplaced" husband. I asked her about it and she said it was her family whistle too!

For more information about the Tufted titmouse, check out the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology page at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Tufted_Titmouse/id/ac

Published on the Patch, 8 January, 2012

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