The expanding range of the charismatic yet wily tufted titmouse
I’m not much of a bird chaser like some of my friends. A rarity like a great kiskadee shows up four hours away, and they’re hitting the road as soon as work or family allows. I consider whether or not I’ve seen the bird elsewhere and if it’s something exciting to view. Is it a gray type of flycatcher that looks like five other types of flycatchers out there? No thanks.
Recently, a tufted titmouse popped up in northern Minneapolis just a 10-minute drive away. I have seen more than my fair share of titmice. We had them in my backyard when I was growing up in Indianapolis, and I know a spot in Menomonie, Wis., where they feed regularly. I can get a titmouse fix if I need it. That said, the lack of titmice in the Twin Cities area always has baffled me. What are we missing that Menomonie has 60 miles away?
So I drove to North Mississippi Regional Park and within five minutes of arrival I heard and saw the tufted titmouse. I was surprised more birders weren’t around for the stake-out bird, but maybe that’s because in the past year, the species has been appearing regularly down around Red Wing, Minn., and a few other people in Minneapolis have them showing up at
their feeders in the north metro. I checked eBird reports in the Twin Cities metro area on my phone, and there have been quite a few in recent weeks.
What’s the population status of the bird? I checked its profile on Birds of North America Online hosted by Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Like the Northern cardinal, turns out the tufted titmouse has been expanding its range northward over the past century, but things slowed considerably in the 1960s. Thanks, however, to farm fields turning into old growth woods, better food offered at bird feeders, and a changing climate, they are expanding once again.
What can you do to encourage tufted titmice? Sunflower seeds and nuts are a favorite, and – like blue jays – titmice will fly away with the largest seed in front of them. They are also cavity nesters; however, they do not excavate their own holes. Tufted titmice take over old woodpecker holes or will sometimes use a nest box. They are a bigger, beefier bird than a black-capped chickadee so the nest hole entrance needs to be at least an inch and a quarter for them to fit.
I’m excited about more titmouse action in the Twin Cities. I’ve always loved the bird diversity here, but felt that the general lack of tufted titmice is what kept Minneapolis from being the perfect city. Perhaps we’ve finally achieved perfection!