Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Small Effort Brings A Treat

Walking in the yard, I heard distinctly the feeding cries of young birds. Because the cries seemed to be near I searched every shrub and tree for a nest.

Several species of birds were in and about the yard but not being able to find a nest, the birds' cries haunted me.

The next day I sat down on the terrace with glasses and followed each bird that came into view. It was not long before I picked up a tufted titmouse with food in its beak. It alighted in a nearby pine tree and quickly disappeared without my seeing where it vanished. Again, I heard the feeding cries of nestlings.

I examined the tree and found no cavity. To my amazement a few seconds later the bird popped out of an old squirrel's nest. The rodent's nest was situated on a large branch approximately four inches in diameter and about two-thirds out on a limb from the trunk of the tree. It was placed among three small branches that grew out from the larger one. The opening of the squirrel's nest was directly in line with the large branch. Each time the bird came with dinner for the nestlings it alighted on the large branch near the opening, then tip-toeing into the hole, it went down into the cavity.

On leaving the nest, it first stuck its head out of the opening and looked around as if checking to see if all were safe. Then it came up out of the cavity and flew away.

The large-eyed, black-eyed, tufted titmouse is a permanent resident in the Central Savannah River Area. It has a gray pointed crest, which it can raise or lower at will, gray back, off-white breast and belly with rusty-red sides and short, rounded wings.

Usual nesting sites of the titmouse are old woodpecker holes or other cavities. Because the bill is short and stout without a chisel, it is unable to excavate its own cavity, unless the wood is very rotted, and much search for a deserted cavity or openings in posts, dead trees, or bird boxes.

A pair of titmice visit our yard each summer and raise a family in cavities of old trees or in bird boxes placed near the wooded lot.

Titmice are fairly early nesters and usually only one brood is raised in a season. By the time the young are on the wing and are finding their own beetles, caterpillars and wasps, having perfected their "peto, peto, peto" song, you will be unable to tell the young from the mother and father when they visit the sunflower feeders in your yard this fall.

After fledging, all the families of titmice in the neighborhood get together as one big party for the rest of the summer until they join mixed flocks of chickadees, gnatcatchers and white-throated sparrows that roam the woods during fall and winter.

But, if you feed them well, you might expect a lively troupe of titmice in your yard during the cold, gray days of winter.

What a treat for such small effort!