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Identifying North America’s five titmouse species

Tufted Titmouse
Tufted Titmouse, adult. April in Harris County, Texas. Photo by Brian E. Small

Members of the titmouse family are among the most familiar and popular backyard birds across North America. The best known undoubtedly are the chickadees, a handful of dark-capped sprites that flock to feeders over most of the U.S. and Canada. The crested titmice of the genus Baeolophus are not quite so numerous or widespread, but they are welcome backyard visitors over much of the lower 48 states and southeastern Canada.

The five species form a distinct group within the family. All have short crests they can raise or lower at will. One species, Bridled Titmouse, is about the size of a chickadee, but the other four all average larger. Bridled often forms flocks of more than half a dozen in the non- breeding season, as chickadees do, but the other four crested titmice are more often seen in groups of only two or three. All of the birds nest in cavities, but chickadees in general seem more likely to excavate or enlarge holes for use, while titmice are more likely to use unmodified holes.

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Kenn Kaufman

Kenn Kaufman

Kenn Kaufman is an expert birder and naturalist, a talented artist and photographer, a world traveler, and the author of many books about birds and other wildlife. His column “ID Tips” appears in every issue of BirdWatching. Kenn is also a field editor for Audubon Magazine and a contributor to Birds and Blooms. His work first appeared in Birder’s World (now BirdWatching) in April 1988. Visit his website, Kaufman Field Guides.

Kenn Kaufman on social media

Brian E. Small

Brian E. Small

Brian Small is a Los Angeles-based bird and nature photographer whose photos appear in the “ID Tips” column in every issue of BirdWatching. His work has been published in Time, The New York Times, Audubon, Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife, Wildlife Conservation, and many other publications. His photos also illustrate many field guides, including Kenn Kaufman’s Birds of North America, a series of state bird identification guides published with the American Birding Association, and his own Eastern and Western photographic field guides to the birds of North America published in 2009 with author Paul Sterry and Princeton University Press.

Brian E. Small on social media