If you own a bird feeder, chances are you’ve seen this pert little customer flying off with a sunflower seed.
Tuffy here is positively ravenous for seeds and suet too, but why? Well, for one thing…
1. He’s got a BIG family to support. Typically a female titmouse lays as many as 9 eggs in its nest, secreted in a hollow tree, and often lined with hair from indignant squirrels, woodchucks —or YOU, if you get a bit too friendly! (But Tuffy is a piker compared to the diminutive European Blue Tit, who can nurture 15 eggs in a woodland environment—the most of any bird in the world!)
2. Just like humans with big families, an older sibling often will play “little mother” the following year, gathering food for mama’s new nestlings, and learning to be a seasoned provider on the day when she breeds her own.
3. He’s not a mouse, so why Titmouse? It goes way back to the Middle English word for the bird—mas—compounded with tit, which shares a root with “petite,” and of course means “little.”
4. But don’t let his tiny size fool you! Tuffy’s one tough (and smart!) customer, able to weather bitter cold Canadian winters, thanks to his remarkable memory for hundreds of secret places where he’s cached many thousands of seeds. “Bird brain” indeed! I’m convinced that birds like the Titmouse have extraordinary minds and even consciousness. Their minds are not like ours, but adapted to their own purposes. It’s we who are too dumb and proud to admit that avian “instincts” often actually are astonishing mental feats!
5. He can even eat upside down thanks to special leg muscles that other birds lack—a feature that comes in handy when he roots out insect eggs!
So the next time you see a Tufted Titmouse, send a prayer for his or her family—and if you want to see her more often, stock your feeder with sunflower seeds! These enterprising little guys love feeders, don’t mind humans who move slowly, and may even eat seeds from the palm of your hand. If you’re game, so is Tuffy!