Tufted Titmouse ( Baeolophus bicolor)

Tufted TitmouseTufted Titmouse distribution map


Population Information

The Federal BBS information can be obtained at http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/bbs.html by clicking on Trend Estimates and selecting the species in question. All estimates are for time period (1966-2005).

Life History

Habitat Selection

The Tufted Titmouse prefers mature forests with tall trees, dense canopy, and a wide variety of tree species (Conner et al. 1983), and reaches greatest densities in larger tracts of forest (Robbins 1979, Grubb and Pravosudov 1994, McIntyre 1995). Deciduous or mixed forests are preferred over coniferous forests (Grubb and Pravosudov 1994). The species is frequently affiliated with hardwoods along watercourses (Faanes 1981, Craven et al. 1996, Klapproth and Johnson 2000), and northward spread has often occurred along wooded riparian corridors (Faanes 1981). Seeds, small fruits, and insects are consumed by the Tufted Titmouse (Bent 1946), which forages indiscriminately among forest trees (Gabbe et al. 2002). Foraging occurs higher in the canopy during the summer when insect prey is abundant (Watt 1972, cited in Grubb and Pravosudov 1994). During the winter, the Tufted Titmouse relies extensively on mast (it has even been referred to as a mast specialist), and areas with high titmouse densities tend to have an abundance of mast-bearing trees such as oaks and beeches (Grubb and Pravosudov 1994, Grubb 1998). Feeders are also an important source of nutrition, and probably contribute significantly to winter survival and subsequent population density (Grubb and Pravosudov 1994, Grubb 1998).

The Tufted Titmouse nests in tree cavities abandoned by woodpeckers or in artificial nest boxes (Bent 1946, Brackbill 1970, Grubb and Pravosudov 1994). Nest cavities may be close to the ground, or as high as 26 m above ground level (Bent 1946). Cavities are also used during the winter and at night for roosting (Bent 1946, Grubb 1998).

Habitat Availability

The Tufted Titmouse breeds in scattered mature forests in southern (especially southwestern) and west central Wisconsin, but often ranges more widely in winter following post-breeding dispersal of young and winter flock formation (Bent 1946, Grubb and Pravodusov 1994, Grubb 1998). This species is most abundant in the forests within the Western Coulee and Ridges ecological landscape and is more local in other southern landscapes. Reliable locations for this species include Wyalusing State Park in Grant County (Mossman and Hoffman 1989), Cook Arboretum in Rock County, and Putnam Park in Eau Claire.

Population Concerns

Originally native to the watersheds of the Ohio and lower Mississippi Rivers, the Tufted Titmouse first appeared in Wisconsin in 1900. After a major northward push in the 1920s that carried birds to central and far western parts of the state, the species continued to increase in numbers into the 1960s (Robbins 1991). A population crash that apparently began sometime during the 1960s (Robbins 1991) bottomed out in the early 1980s, and was followed by a gradual, if uneven, recovery through the end of the century (National Audubon Society 2002, Sauer et al. 2003). Even within periods of overall increase or decline, the Tufted Titmouse often exhibits siginificant short-term population fluctuations (Mossman and Lange 1982, Bohlen 1989, Temple et al. 1997, National Audubon Society 2002, Sauer et al. 2003).

While northward spread has been attributed to climatic warming, increased availability of feeders, and the recovery and maturation of northeastern forests (Grubb and Pravosudov 1994), population declines and associated range retractions have often been blamed on severe winters (Mossman and Lange 1982, Bohlen 1989, Robbins 1991) and forest fragmentation (Grubb and Pravosudov 1994). Because mast is such an important resource for this species (Grubb and Pravosudov 1994, Grubb 1998), variations in the survival and productivity of mast-bearing trees probably also impact population density.

The Tufted Titmouse competes directly with other hole-nesting species such as the House Wren for nest cavities, and may experience a large number of nest failures because of egg-puncturing wrens (Grubb and Pravosudov 1994). The rates of brood parasitism by the Brown-headed Cowbird have not been quantified, but likely are low for this cavity-nesting species (Grubb and Pravosudov 1994).

Recommended Management

Because the Tufted Titmouse is an area-sensitive forest species (Robbins 1979, Robbins et al. 1989, Grubb and Pravosudov 1994, McIntyre 1995), preservation of large, unbroken tracts of mature deciduous forest in southern and west central Wisconsin, especially those containing a significant component of mast-bearing trees, is recommended for its conservation. Such forest tracts have an important function as reservoirs for species recovery after periodic population declines. Larger tracts along riparian corridors may have special value. Preservation of snags within breeding and wintering areas will also benefit this species.

Research Needs

Although the Tufted Titmouse is a fairly common bird within much of its range, it has been the subject of surprisingly little study. More research and monitoring are needed to better understand the habitat requirements, ecology, and population dynamics of this species in Wisconsin.

Information Sources


Contact Information

Kreitinger, K., Y. Steele and A. Paulios, editors. 2013.
The Wisconsin All-bird Conservation Plan, Version 2.0. Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Madison, WI.

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