Like miniature cardinals cloaked in pale gray, tufted titmice often keep company with their cousins the chickadees when foraging for seeds. Although their mousy plumage and big black eyes might suggest that they are furtive, scurrying creatures, quite the opposite is true. Tufted titmice are bold as brass, harassing intruders in their territory with their harsh scold calls and even stealing tufts of fur from sleeping mammals to use in lining their nests!
From the neck down, tufted titmice look very similar to black-capped chickadees: pale gray above and white below, with rusty flanks. Their heads sport a small crest like a cardinal’s, and their black eyes stand out in their otherwise unmarked pale faces.
Titmice are noticeably larger than chickadees, with more than an inch’s difference in length between the two on average. Titmice have small but fairly thick bills, and many sport at least a small patch of black “nose” feathers above the maxilla (upper mandible).
Tufted titmice are fairly large for feeder birds, and they are not afraid to throw their weight around, often displacing smaller or less aggressive birds at feeder perches. They do not forage with quite the same boundless energy that chickadees exhibit, but they can still prove quite nimble when hanging for a hard-to-reach treat.
Titmice in spring sing a repeated series of two-note whistles, peter peter peter, but they are vocal in all seasons. When harassing intruders or predators, they give a harsh scolding dway dway call, often preceded by thin squeaks similar to the sound made by forcing air past clenched teeth.
As a species in the midst of a successful range expansion from the Southern US, tufted titmice are increasing in all seasons. They can be found practically anywhere in the Commonwealth where there are trees, with the notable exception of Nantucket, which they have yet to colonize. Learn more in the Breeding Bird Atlas 2.