Titmice…Eyes of Coal

ACH TIME I see a Tufted Titmouse I think of that song. You know the one…”Frosty the Snowman was a jolly happy soul, with a corncob pipe and a button nose, and two eyes made out of coal.”

I know it’s silly. But those big, dark, fluid black eyes get to me every time. They just seem to be the defining characteristic of a titmouse, and they also seem to reinforce their intense and energetic temperament.

Members of the titmouse family are all quick and vigorous in their movements, darting and dashing among the branches but seldom indulging in long flights. In the winter they can be particularly intense as they cache food items throughout their territory.

Titmice hoard food items by scattering them one by one under loose bark and in small crevices. They apparently can remember the exact location of each item they hide for weeks or even months. Some authorities believe this amazing memory retention is associated with the fact that the hippocampus region of a titmouse’s brain gets larger in fall, and shrinks in the spring. This is the portion of the brain responsible for short-term memory.

The Bridled Titmouse, unlike the other titmice species, does not hide seeds for future use. Its hippocampus is small compared to other titmice and shows no seasonal variation in size.

So, maybe those dark eyes do look so intense because there is really a lot going on inside a titmouse’s pointed little head.

Facts About Titmice

  • The Tufted Titmouse seeks insects and cocoons among dead leaves, whether still attached to a tree, fallen to the ground, or even built into squirrels’ nests.
  • It eats with its feet! Tufted Titmice are one of a few perching birds that can use their feet to hold seeds while they break them open.
  • During the winter the Tufted Titmouse forages together with chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers and Brown Creepers.
  • The Tufted Titmouse is apparently totally dominant over the Black-capped Chickadees within their territory. Chickadee survival rates often plummet after Titmice expand into their territory for the first time.
  • The Tufted Titmouse has been expanding its range northward since the 1940’s and is now found almost to the Canadian border across most of its range. Speculation for the expansion includes warming winter temperatures and the increase in mature woodland habitat.
  • Tufted Titmice have been know to wander northward in the fall and winter, even into southern Canada. –BirdTracks