Their introduction to the outside world was not on the best of terms. It was raining cats and dogs when my local family of Tufted Titmouses revealed their presence in the front yard. The tiny grey nestlings must have just scrambled out of their nest cavity on the morning I spotted them and the bunch looked to be wet and miserable.
Now, for the record, I’m not sure how to refer to a grouping of Tufted Mouses. Frankly, Titmouses sounds awkward but Titmousii or Teats sounds even worse so I’ll just say Titmice. The brood of tiny titmice was spread across the front yard between the crabapple and a large Red maple. The parents were actively feeding all of them and the place was a hub of activity for several days running. Each of the young birds (perhaps four or five) were uttering continuous “chup-chup” calls and it was all the adults could do to keep up with their constant pleas for food.
Adult Titmice are Chickadee-sized birds with plain gray backing, white breast with rusty flanks, large black eyes, and a name-earning crest atop their noggin. They are common feeder birds throughout the year and their loud “Tee-boo tee-boo tee-boo” calls are a regular part of our landscape. Because they are little gray cavity nesters, however, their nest sites are very difficult to locate. Titmice don’t (or won’t) excavate their own cavities and rely on abandoned woodpecker holes for their brood raising needs. In short, this is to say that I had no idea that my local Titmice were in a family way until their loud brood of nestlings erupted onto the scene. The nest must have been very close indeed.
Wet drippy little titmice do not make for a pretty picture. The birdlets made no attempt to get out of the rain either. Perhaps, being newly out, they thought it normal. Only one of them found a decent sheltered perch on one of the maple limbs. The others bumbled their way from the car roof, to an upside-down position on a Cedar branch, a wagon wheel spoke, and the split rail fence. They were noisily announcing and exposing themselves – afforded protection only by the rain.
The downpour didn’t hinder a Blue Jay from performing an assassination attempt. The Blue bomber swooped down on one tit-chick as it assumed a Capt. Morgan stance on the top of the old scythe handle leaning against the cedar rail. The nestling appeared shocked after the first attempt and downright indignant when the Jay returned for a rear-assault. All baby birds look indignant but this one definitely looked miffed. I barely had time to snap a shot as the Blue Jay grabbed some of the tail feathers and gave the nestling a mighty jerk. In the photo it came off as a blurry ghost with a neck bib.
I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that I was looking forward to witnessing the actual assassination. It is something that you read about but rarely witness – something that event the mainline nature shows tend to cut since people don’t like seeing baby birds die. It is a fact that most of them are plucked, picked, gobbled, or otherwise converted into predator scat before reaching adulthood.
Alas, the Blue Jay gave up her efforts and I was left with a live wet baby bird in front of me. I did feel cheated when a few days later I found one of the Titmice chicks dead at the base of one of the Maple trees and could only blame the act on a Blue Jay (as much as I would have liked to pin it on one of the marauding local cats).
The parent Titmice fed their charges with a variety of insects and, what appeared to be, a few seeds. They literally shoved the food directly into the young bird’s throat. One especially large chunk of seed (perhaps a peanut fragment) was inserted and pulled several times before the nestling finally downed it.
Between feedings the nestlings cat-napped or drifted into un-easy bouts of sleep. The parents only found their well-deserved respite at sun down when the babies finally closed their over-sized yaps and took time to contemplate their uncertain futures. Nearly 80% will not have a future so it is best we enjoy them in their present.