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This common year-round resident of the deciduous and mixed forests of eastern North America is also found in older urban and suburban areas with mature trees and vegetation. The Tufted Titmouse’s gray-crested head, rust-colored flanks, black forehead and large eyes make it easily identifiable, even for casual birders. It is a frequent visitor to bird feeders during fall and winter where individuals prefer sunflower seeds and suet, and often cache many of those seeds throughout their territories. This is an active bird, moving along branches, and often searching under them, for arthropods. It is also a vocal species, frequently uttering contact calls and chick-a-dee calls and, in spring and summer, singing its ‘peter-peter-peter’ songs.
Tufted Titmice and chickadees are ‘nuclear’ species, often joined in winter flocks by a variety of ‘satellite’ species. As a ‘nuclear’ species, titmice influence the paths that flocks follow, are aggressive mobbers of potential predators, and often take the lead during mobbing events. The calls that titmice utter when mobbing provide information about the presence of predators for heterospecifics as well as conspecifics.
Tufted Titmice nest in cavities made by other species, primarily woodpeckers, but will nest in boxes. Pair bonds often last for more than one breeding season and, in contrast to most species of titmice and chickadees, young Tufted Titmice often remain with their parents during the winter and then disperse later in their second year. Some yearling titmice even stay on their natal territory and help parents raise younger siblings.
During the past 70 years, the range of this species has expanded northward into New England and southern Canada, with climatic warming likely the most important factor, but bird feeders also a factor. The northern distribution of titmice is likely limited by average minimum temperature rather than food availability.
Historically, Black-crested Titmice (Baeolophus atricristatus) were considered a subspecies of the Tufted Titmouse, but were accorded species status in 2002. The two species hybridize in narrow zones in Texas and southwestern Oklahoma.