Like the red-bellied woodpecker, the tufted titmouse has been expanding its range into Maine for years. Last week, I spotted a pair of titmice along the Kenduskeag Stream in the company of six chickadees. Titmice and chickadees are in the same zoological family, the titmouse family.
Many people find this name quite amusing, so here’s the origin of titmouse.
Members of that family live in Europe and look much like the chickadee. According to the “Encyclopedia of North American Birds” by John Terres, titmouse originates from Old Icelandic “titr,” meaning something small, and Anglo-Saxon “mase,” for “kind of bird.”
This little flock along the Kenduskeag Stream was very active with birds flying from one tree to the next, clutching the ridges of bark, poking their bills into cracks in the bark, flying to another branch, hanging from twigs upside down, making many little contact notes. Contact notes are not the same as a bird’s song. Contact notes are very short, and they function to keep the flock together.
The two titmice were keeping together and calling with raspy notes. They drop in at my feeders in Orono and feeders at Fields Pond Audubon Center in Holden, as well. But I always enjoy watching birds as they have foraged for eons before the times of bird feeders.
In the last 20 years of Orono-Old Town Christmas bird counts, birders and feeder-watchers would find from two to 30 titmice each year. Compare that with 400 to 600 or more of the hardy chickadees.
The habitat of tufted titmice is mature broad-leaved trees such as oak, beech and maple. According to Cornell’s All About Birds Web site, the reason for this expanse of their range may be the combination of global warming, farms becoming forest and the increasing numbers of bird feeders.
In April, titmice will start up their mating song, “peter, peter, peter.” They typically find a natural opening in a tree and make their nest inside with leaves, moss, fibers, hairs and any other soft materials they find.
The Bangor-Bucksport Christmas Bird Count takes in most of Bangor, Brewer, Hampden, Orrington, Winterport and Bucksport and is set for Saturday, Jan. 3. Those who wish to participate may e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 989-2591.