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. Female lays 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.

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.

2 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.

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