A cheery presence in woodlands, parklands, and suburban areas across the eastern United States, tufted titmice (Baeolophus bicolor) are versatile nesters, raising their young in abandoned tree cavities, nest boxes, fence posts, and even inside empty pipes.
If you’re interested in learning about the nesting habits of tufted titmice, our guide will tell you everything you’ve ever wanted to know!
The tufted titmouse nests in cavities excavated in tree trunks by other birds, particularly larger woodpeckers. Natural tree hollows are also used, as well as nest boxes. Once a cavity is found, it is lined with damp leaves and animal fur before the tufted titmouse lays its eggs.
Our guide takes an in-depth look at the nesting and breeding habits of the tufted titmouse, so if you’re keen to know more, then please read on!
Tufted titmouse live in mixed forests, parklands, and orchards. In recent years, the species has become more widespread into suburban areas too, with backyard nesting becoming increasingly common.
Nests are made in naturally occurring tree hollows, as well as in cavities that have been previously drilled out and used by nesting woodpeckers, such as downy and pileated woodpeckers and northern flickers. Alternative nest solutions include artificial birdhouses and inside metal pipes.
A tufted titmouse pair will not reuse the same nest cavity in a future breeding season, preferring to set up home in a new site each year. If a clutch fails, pairs may attempt a second brood at a different site rather than starting again in the same hollow.
It is becoming increasingly common for tufted titmouse pairs to be found nesting in backyard trees or nest boxes, as the species extends its range into suburban areas, where they are particularly attracted by bird feeders stocked with sunflower seeds.
Tufted Titmice are cavity nesters,
Nest boxes are frequently used by tufted titmice when there is an absence of a natural cavity in a tree trunk. Boxes with an opening of 2.9 cm (1.125 in) are preferred, with a height of 20. 3 cm (8 in) and floor space of 10.2 cm by 14 cm (4 in by 5.5 in).
If the dimensions are any larger, there is a chance that other, larger birds may invade and take over the box.
A wide variety of trees, both evergreen and deciduous, are used by nesting tufted titmice. Species include elm, maple, beech, pine, cypress, oak, dogwood, birch, apple, tupelo, sycamore, hemlock, mulberry, and chestnut.
When tree cavities are used by tufted titmouse pairs for nesting, they can be as low as 0.6 m (2 ft) or as high as 27 m (90 ft) above ground level. The average range is around a height of 11 to 12 m (36 to 39 ft).
For a birdhouse to stand a chance of attracting nesting tufted titmice, it should be mounted between 1.5 and 4.5 m (5 and 15 ft) above the ground.
Nesting Tufted Titmouse looking out of the nest box
Cavities, whether natural tree hollows, former homes of woodpeckers, or artificial nest boxes, are lined with a cup-shaped internal nest, which is crafted together by a female tufted titmouse and lined with animal fur or even human hair.
Observations at a number of tufted titmouse nest sites recorded that cavities measured between 21 and 28 cm (8 and 11 in) in depth, with the diameter of the cavity averaging around 7.5 cm (3 in).
Nest structures measure up to 8 cm (3.1 in) across, while the cavity entrance measures between 4.4 to 5.6 cm (1.7 to 2.2 in).
Close up of a Tufted Titmouse with nesting material in its beak, during the spring
Tufted titmouse breeding begins with nest building from late March onwards. The latest-born young leave by mid-July, with most eggs laid in April or, if a second or replacement brood is attempted, June.
The incubation period for tufted titmouse eggs is between 12 and 14 days. After hatching, a young tufted titmouse remains in the nest until it reaches 15 to 16 days, by which time it is ready to fledge.
April is the prime laying month for tufted titmouse pairs. Incubation and raising hatchlings to the fledgling stage takes around one month, with most young leaving the nest in May. Rare second broods may follow in June, but these are not common.
To avoid freezing overnight temperatures in the harshest winters, it’s not uncommon for a tufted titmouse to seek shelter in a cavity in a tree, similar to one it would nest in.
Winter roosting cavities are used by solitary birds, and these hollows are not reused as nesting chambers once spring arrives.
Tufted Titmouse perched in the forest
Although tufted titmouses nest in tree cavities, they are unable to hollow out a chamber by themselves, and rely on a pre-existing hole that has been excavated by a different species or a naturally occurring cavity in a trunk or limb.
Cavities are lined with nest materials arranged by the female, including damp leaves, moss, and grass. An inner lining of animal fur is added as a final touch before egg-laying commences. Construction takes between 4 and 11 days, on average.
A cup-shaped nest is crafted at the base of a nest cavity selected by the tufted titmouse pair. Materials include damp leaves, fresh moss, and grass for the foundation. Animal fur, hair and feathers are used as a lining.
Fur or hair may even be plucked from the backs of living animals, such as cows and horses.
Tufted titmouse pairs inspect nest sites together, although ultimately the nest construction is undertaken by the female tufted titmouse alone.
A tufted titmouse collects fur to line its nest
Tufted titmouse eggs are creamy white in color, sub elliptical in shape, and marked all over with fine red-purple speckles. Eggs are 1.7 to 2 cm (0.7 to 0.8 in ) long and 1.4 to 1.6 cm (0.6 in) wide.
The average clutch size for tufted titmice is 5 to 6 eggs, although any number within the range of 3 to 9 eggs is not uncommon.
Only tufted titmouse females incubate eggs. During incubation, males will bring food to their mate, but they do not develop a brood patch, and do not take a turn sitting on the eggs.
A very fluffy Tufted Titmouse fledgling
Nestlings develop a full set of adult feathers by around day 14 after hatching, and will typically leave the nest at 15 or 16 days old. The latest observed example of fledging was recorded at 17 to 18 days.
Tufted titmouse pairs have one brood each season, although if a clutch fails early in the year, the pair may relocate to a new cavity and try again. Second broods are rare, but not unheard of.
Young Tufted Titmouse chick singing in a tree
If a clutch fails to hatch or a nest cavity is disturbed by a predator, it is highly likely that a nesting titmouse pair would abandon their nest. An alternative nesting site will then be found, with the pair relocating and attempting to establish a replacement second clutch.
Although tufted titmice are versatile and adaptable nesters, there are no recorded examples of pairs establishing a nest site on the ground.
Higher elevations have more success, although some naturally occurring tree hollows at lower heights, some as low as 0.6 m (2 ft) off the ground, are occasionally selected.
A breeding pair of Tufted Titmice
Tufted titmice might be seen as social birds, flocking and foraging together during daylight hours, but at night it’s a different story. Tufted titmice are solitary roosters that typically seek out a roosting spot away from other birds.
Where available, tree cavities are used by individual roosting birds overnight, particularly in colder weather.
A simple way of attracting tufted titmouse is to put up a nest box on a large deciduous tree, facing away from any prevailing winds, at a height of between 1.5 and 4.6 m (5 and 15 ft).
Regularly topped-up bird feeding stations, with sunflower seeds and mealworms will capture a titmouse’s attention, particularly in winter months, and offering food throughout the year may increase your chances of encouraging a nesting pair to set up home in your yard.
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