Tufted Titmouse: Nest and Eggs

Adult tufted titmouse. Photo: Dennis Church.

The tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) is a bird of deciduous woodlands in the eastern United States. Many people are familiar with titmice’s loud and stereotypical calls throughout the day, but most don’t know what bird makes them. Titmice are closely related to chickadees and also nest in natural and manmade nesting cavities.  This article is intended to aid in identifying tuft titmouse nests and eggs.

Black-capped chickadee breeding facts

Breeding Period:Egg-laying by early to mid-April. Breeding continues until mid-July.
Nest type:Nest of variable sizes depending on the cavity, with a central nest cup.
Substrate & Location:Nests are always built inside a cavity, 4-55 ft above the ground.
Cavity:Woodpecker cavities, natural tree cavities, and nesting boxes. 
Nesting Activities:Both males and females inspect potential cavities and build the nest. The female alone incubates the eggs.  
Egg Description:Creamy-white with reddish-purple spots more concentrated toward the wide side of the egg.
Egg Length and width:0.72 in x 0.55 in.
Egg-laying:It begins a day or two after nest completion. Females lay one egg every day.
Clutch size:Typically 5-6 eggs. Throughout the species range, clutches vary from 3 to 9 eggs. 
Number of broods:Single brood per year.
Incubation Period:13 days on average ranging between 12 to 14 days.

 

Breeding range and habitat

Breeding range of the tufted titmouse. Adapted from allaboutbirds.org.

Tufted titmice occur roughly in the eastern deciduous forests in the east half of the United States. In recent years titmice have expanded their range northward towards Canada, perhaps in response to climate change.

The tufted titmice inhabit various habitats, including deciduous and mixed forests, semi-open habitats, and disturbed habitats. They are common in wooded suburban habitats and are one of the most popular visitors at bird feeders.

Migration and social behavior

Titmice are year-round residents that breed in established territories that they maintain throughout the year. In most places, titmice stay in the areas where they breed. 

Birders have observed that titmice tend to be absent during part of the year in certain regions, suggesting they may engage in some type of regional short-distance migration. However, migration studies have not been conducted.

Juvenile titmice move to other areas when they become nutritionally independent, but their movements and distances have not been well documented.

Titmice form flocks during the winter months, which cover a larger territory than their breeding territory. Spring signals the breakup of the flock, which leads to the establishment of breeding territories by mated pairs.

Breeding Period

Adult tufted titmouse protecting a natural cavity. Photo: Brian Henderson.

Mated pairs begin inspecting potential nesting sites by early March. By the first week of April, females start laying eggs.

Depending on the region, some pairs begin breeding later than others. Across the species range, the breeding season continues until approximately mid-July.

Tufted titmouse nest appearance

Most of the nest is constructed from coarse materials, such as twigs, dead leaves, and grasses mixed with wool and animal fur. Nests sometimes contain plastic pieces.

The coarse material surrounds a cup that birds line with hair, dead leaves, fine fibers, feathers, animal fur, and sometimes snake skin. 

A typical nest of a tufted titmouse built in a cavity. Photo: Brian Palmer.

The size of the nest can vary depending on the type of cavity the birds chose to nest. 

Nesting habits

They have tufted titmice nest in abandoned woodpecker cavities, nesting boxes, and other manmade structures. They adapt well to existing cavity conditions and fill deep and wide cavities with nesting material to meet their needs.

Examples of nesting cavities include broken branches, scars left by broken limbs, and enclosures deep enough to hold a nest. Nests have been found up to 55 feet above the ground and as low as in cavities in fence poles. Nest boxes are readily accepted by titmice.

Nest building

Tufted titmouse carrying nesting material. Photo: Cynthia

In the Spring, males and females inspect potential nesting cavities together. Once the site is chosen, both sexes build the nest that can be completed in 4 to 11 days.

Egg appearance

Eggs are oval-round in shape with an approximate length of 0.72 inches and a breadth of 0.55 inches. The eggs are white to creamy white with reddish-purple spots, which may be concentrated on the wider side of the egg. The color and marking pattern of tufted titmice eggs from different regions do not seem to vary much.

The eggs of the tufted titmouse.

See egg with similar markings:

Nest and eggs of the Carolina chickadee.

Nest and eggs of the black-capped chickadee.

Egg Laying

Egg-laying begins a day or two after the nest has been built, although some nesting material can still be added as the female continues laying eggs.

During the night, the female stays in the cavity, laying one egg every morning before leaving it in the morning. 

Clutch size

Titmice typically lay clutches of 5 to 6 eggs. Throughout the species range, clutches vary from 3 to 9 eggs. 

Pairs usually produce a single brood, though the pair may attempt another brood at another nesting site if the eggs are lost early in the breeding season.

Incubation of the eggs

Tufted Titmouse in a nesting box. Photo: Rain0975.

After the female lays the next-to-last egg, she begins full incubation. The male feeds the female while she is incubating and when the female leaves the nest for her basic needs.

The female covers the eggs with nesting material when she leaves the nest. During warmer weather, the female spends more time outside the nest than during colder weather.

Incubation period

The female tufts titmouse incubates the eggs for 12 to 14 days before they hatch. Across the titmouse range, the incubation period is typically 13 days.

References:

  • Brawn, J. D. and R. P. Balda. (1988a). Population biology of cavity nesters in northern Arizona: do nest sites limit breeding densities? Condor 90:61-71.
  • Harrison, C. J. O. (1978). A Field Guide to the Nests, Eggs and Nestlings of North American Birds. Collins, Toronto, ON, Canada.
  • Johnson, L. S. and L. H. Kermott. (1994). Nesting success of cavity-nesting birds using natural tree cavities. Journal of Field Ornithology 65:36-51.
  • Middleton, R. J. (1949c). Tufted Titmouse nesting seven years. Bird-Banding 20:151-152.

LEARN MORE ABOUT BIRD NESTS AND EGGS:

19 thoughts on “Tufted Titmouse: Nest and Eggs”

  1. Juanita Baker

    Have the Titmouse in Florida ever hatched and raised young early in April/May then bred again in September?
    They seem to be busy again now in September, taking feed from the feeder to their nest area.

    1. Hi Juanita,

      I don’t know, but I’d think it is unlikely that they would start nesting this late. If they seem to be taking food to the nest area, it may be for other reasons, perhaps they are storing food for the winter months. It just happens that they are storing food near the nest site.

      Thank you for visiting!

      Al.

  2. My titmouse babies have fledged. I have not seen the parents around the nesting box since babies fledged. Should I clean out the nesting box or leave the nest alone?

    1. Hi Barbara,

      If they fledged and are not around, cleaning up the box is a good idea. The parents are busy with the kids but soon may want to try another brood. A clean and parasite-free box is more inviting to birds looking to nest or re-nest.

      Regards,
      Al.

  3. We just discovered a nest in one of our hanging plants. I personally haven’t seen the bird but from what my wife told me I’m almost sure it’s a titmouse. So my question is, should I keep watering the flower, so it stays healthy and provides better hiding for the nest, or stop watering so that the nest stays dry? The pot it’s in does have drainage.

    1. Hi Mark,

      I am almost certain that the bird nesting in your hanging plant is a Carolina Wren. Tufted Titmice nest in cavities and nesting boxes.

      Yes, you should continue watering the plant. Just make your that you don’t put too much water every time you do so. You may have to do it more often putting less water than you would if the nest was not there. There should be some space between the dirt and where the eggs are so a small amount of water more often will not get to the eggs.

      Do not worry about disturbing the birds. They are used to the traffic around the plant. They will leave the nest when you water the plant but will return.

      This is a link for the nest of a Carolina Wren:

      https://avianreport.com/carolina-wren-nest-and-eggs/

      Regards,

      Al.

  4. I cleaned out the bird box after the last occupant in early May. We went out of town and came back to a fully built but empty nest in the box the last week of May. It is June 1st, and l am watching the titmouse hanging out in the box. I would have thought that it was too late for nesting as it is starting to get really hot here in Louisiana. Is this typical?

    1. Hi Julie,

      Glad to hear that your titmice are nesting in your box. This is normal, titmice breed in the spring and summer and often have more than one brood per season.

      Hope all goes well.

      Regards,
      Al

  5. Hi Julie,

    Glad to hear that your titmice are nesting in your box. This is normal, titmice breed in the spring and summer and often have more than one brood per season.

    Hope all goes well.

    Regards,
    Al

  6. I believe I have a Titmice nesting on a pot (filled with potting soil but no plant) since the nest is domed shape. I have a very small balcony and am afraid to side out there while the bird is on the nest. I really enjoy my balcony and I am upset that this bird has taken up residence. I have not disturbed the nest and will leave it until the babies leave the nest. My questions are can I sit on my balcony while the bird is in the nest and will this bird try to come back next year? I don’t wish to be a landlord.

  7. Hi Cynthia,

    By your description and location of the nest, it is more likely that it is Carolina Wren’s nest.

    Yes, you can do what you normally do on your balcony. The birds have already factored in that activity by nesting there. Ignore them and they will be fine.

    If you don’t want them there, let them raise their young and remove or change what attracted them to your balcony after they leave.

    Here is a link to a Carolina Wren nest. It may be what you have at your place.

    https://avianreport.com/carolina-wren-nest-and-eggs/

    Regards,
    Al

  8. Titmouse began building nest in early April taking up space in a Robin box but creating almost a behive-like enclosure. Laid at least 3 eggs. Sat on those eggs dutifully for 2 weeks while it appeared another bird brought it food. Prior to apparently abandoning the eggs, the titmouse almost sealed the opening seemingly to keep the eggs as warm as possible. It has been an usually cold April in the 50s and 60s. Now I wait for the titmouse to return or the eggs to hatch but expect neither. Very depressing actually.

    1. Hello Mike,

      Not sure what happened there. Something may have happened to one of the parents or the egg were taken from the nest.

      I hope they come back.

      Al.

  9. I have titmice nesting on an entrance light next to my front door (I use the back door as much as possible while they’re nesting to reduce their stress of course). There have been titmice nesting there on and off for 16 years. The entrance is an alcove, somewhat enclosed and protected from the weather. I have positively identified the birds as titmice and want to let you know that the titmice have a broader definition of enclosure than a nest box. To a titmouse a small balconey or alcove with a high light fixture or hanging plant is an enclosed space.

    I have photos of the birds, the nests and alcove, but don’t see a way to post them

    1. Hi Kit,

      16 years nesting there!! I wish I had that. I made a woodpecker house this year and it is being used by a pair of red-bellied woodpecker. What joy watching them coming and going. I hope they come back for the next 15 years!.

      Al.

  10. Hi. I am the co-author of a children’s book on North American birds. We would love to use the photo of the Tufted Titmouse eggs. Are you able to give us permission?

  11. Hello,
    I have flower boxes under my windows on the front of my house. In the flower boxes are a full, high, thick covering of pansies. A little over a week ago I did my daily watering, nothing was there, 2 days later there was a nest hidden in the flowers at the back of one of the boxes, and 2 days after that 5-6 eggs in the nest. Since this nest and eggs appeared, I try to stay away from the boxes, except to gently water the flowers and I have even tried to do that as minimally as possible, not to scare them off. At no time in all this time since the nest and eggs appeared have I seen a mother bird nesting/incubating the eggs during the day.
    Do you think these eggs have been abandoned?
    I am hoping that the mother is just not there when I pass by to go in and out of my house, during the day. I find it strange though that I have never seen her off or on her nest.

    1. Alfredo Begazo

      Hello Lynn,

      Hard to tell. I suggest to monitor the nest for half an hour or so from a point far from the nest and see if a bird shows up. I no bird shows up in 2-3 repetitions at separate times, then the nest has been abandoned. Reasons to abandon a nest are many. One common one is that something happened to one of the pair. If one disappears the other will not continue incubating and move on to find another mate.

      I hope they return and continue incubating.
      Al.

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