Illustration: Tufted titmouse

Illustration by Michael O'Brien


Map: Tufted titmouse range


The active and noisy tufted, North America’s most widespread titmouse, is remarkably uniform morphologically, genetically, vocally, and behaviorally throughout its range. Besides gleaning trees and shrubs for arthropods, it spends more time on the ground searching leaf litter than do chickadees and most other titmouse species. The tufted titmouse does not usually associate with mixed-species flocks; after the breeding season it spends a lot of time in small foraging parties that typically consist of parents and their offspring. The tufted titmouse frequents well-vegetated urban and suburban areas, willingly uses nest boxes, and regularly visits bird feeders. Monotypic. Length 6.3" (16 cm).

Identification Adult: gray crest; black forehead; gray upperparts; pale gray or whitish breast and belly; flanks prominently washed in rust or orange. Juvenile: gray forehead, rather than black; slightly paler crest than in the adult. Hybrid: tufted and black-crested titmice interbreed in a north-south 30- to 60-mile-wide (50- to 100-kilometer-wide) belt extending from Oklahoma through central Texas, producing offspring with variably intermediate dusky crests and grayish foreheads that make identification near impossible.

Similar Species The only other titmice likely found in its range is the black-crested, which has a pale forehead. Juniper is much plainer and does not have brightly washed flanks.

Voice Call: a harsh, scolding zhee zhee zhee. Song: a loud, whistled peto peto peto or wheedle wheedle wheedle, often repeated monotonously.

Status and Distribution Common. Year-round: deciduous woodlands, suburbs, urban parks, wherever else trees are large enough to provide nest holes. Dispersal: wanders casually north of its usual limits in fall and winter; records from South Dakota, Minnesota, Quebec, and New Brunswick.

Population The species is increasing in nearly every part of its range. Expansion northward has been under way for at least a century, and the movement continues through northern New England and southern Canada. The bird’s extreme sedentary nature probably accounts for the slow progression.

—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006

Bird Features

  • Illustration of great horned owl

    What's That Bird?

    Identify your backyard visitors in a flash! Just answer four simple questions to search our database of 150 backyard birds common to Canada and the U.S.

  • Picture of a hummingbird

    Backyard Birds Quiz

    How much do you know about the feathered visitors to your backyard? Put your avian IQ to the test with this quiz.

See More Bird Features »

National Geographic Magazine

  • Photo: bowerbird mating game between female and male bowerbirds.

    Bowerbirds Gallery

    To woo a "Mary," bowerbirds decorate with shells, cans, even pink paper clips.

  • Photo: Female whooping crane feeding her young

    Counting Cranes

    How many whooping cranes are there? Not enough. See photos of these birds in action.

Animals A-Z