The tufted titmouse is a frequent and recognizable visitor to bird feeders throughout eastern North America. The species is generally identifiable by its gray tuft and black forehead.
Distinguishing between the male and female can be difficult since the two sexes sport the same plumage. However, there are behavioral differences that, with careful observation, can help you identify one from the other.
Most notably, females differ from males in their nesting and feeding habits. There are a handful of other traits you can watch out for as well. In this article, we will take a closer look at the female tufted titmouse and provide you with the tools to help more easily identify a female from her mate. Read on to discover more!
Unfortunately you cannot differentiate between male and female Tufted Titmouse by their plumage, as its the same
Male and female tufted titmice are sexually dimorphic, meaning their plumage is identical. Thus, it is nearly impossible to tell this bird’s sex solely based on coloration or markings. To identify whether a titmouse is male or female you must observe behavioral differences and listen to their vocalizations.
For example, males tend to exhibit more dominant behaviors than females. At a feeder, the male is likely to be territorial and chase other birds away. The female, on the other hand, is more likely to tolerate the presence of others. The female also does not sing the distinct “peter, peter” song that the males are well-known for. They have their own set of vocalizations.
We will delve deeper into the vocalizations of the female tufted titmouse and other behavioral differences later in the article.
A female tufted titmouse appears grayish overall, with darker coloration on her back and lighter on her breast. She sports a pointed gray crest and a black forehead and bill. Titmice have large heads in proportion to their bodies, with wide black eyes. In winter, the flanks of the tufted titmouse show a soft rust-colored plumage.
Juvenile tufted titmice are similar in color to the adults. Their plumage is a slightly lighter gray and the forehead mark is more dusky than black. The feathers also still have a loose, downy appearance. The juveniles typically feature this plumage in May through August. After which time, the young adults will molt and begin to look more like an adult.
Close up of a Tufted Titmouse
The female tufted titmouse is not larger than the male. On average, the male is bulkier, weighing up to 12 ounces. Females generally weigh up to 10 ounces. With a good eye, you may be able to differentiate between males and females based on size. This can be difficult, though, unless a pair is near one another.
One of the best ways to tell the difference between a male and female tufted titmouse is by careful observation of their behavioral differences. Their most notable differences are seen in singing and calls, nesting and feeding roles, and aggression (or social behavior).
We will take a closer look at these differences in the following sections.
Tufted Titmouse female (left) and male (right) offering his mate some food
Unlike the males, female tufted titmice do not sing. In general, the female is quieter than her male counterpart. However, she does have a repertoire of lower-pitched calls utilized while on the nest or as a warning when predators are nearby. The 'seet' is their most notable warning vocalization, usually given when flying predators are observed.
Once the nest is built, typically inside a tree cavity or nest box, the female will soon lay the eggs and begin incubation. Only the female incubates - a period that lasts 12 to 14 days. The male provides his mate with all of her food throughout this period, whether she is on or off the nest.
On average, a female appears to stay in the nest for 25-27 minutes, taking short breaks in between to receive food, bathe, and defecate.
Once the eggs hatch, the female broods the nestlings consistently for the first few days. During this period, the male is providing most of the food for the female and their young. The female cuts back on brooding after the nestlings are 12 to 13 days old. She then begins to share more of the feeding responsibility with her mate.
The nestlings typically leave the nest 15 or 16 days after hatching. However, some young birds may stay with their parents for up to six weeks.
Tufted Titmouse gathering nesting materials
Tufted titmice gather in flocks for the winter. Within these flocks exists a social hierarchy. Males, including juveniles, are more dominant than females.
The groups as a whole are also extremely territorial and will fight other titmouse flocks that enter their territories. When fights occur, females are unlikely to take part - males make up more than 90% of the territory defenders.
A female tufted titmouse is unlikely to successfully raise young alone. During the incubation and brooding periods, the female is almost exclusively dependent on the male to provide food for her and the young.
If the female were to leave the nest for longer periods during incubation or brooding, she would leave her eggs or young in their most vulnerable state. Either incubation would fail or a predator would destroy the nest.
A pair of Tufted Titmice on a suet feeder pine cone
Female tufted titmice are not as aggressive or dominant as males. However, they still exhibit assertive behaviors, particularly around feeders. Because the titmouse is larger than many songbirds (only slightly smaller than a cardinal), they tend to have the upper hand when it comes to competing for food sources. Females will also show aggression when the nest or young are threatened.
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