Titmice and Chickadees: Paridae

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Titmice and chickadees are perching songbirds that are small and compact with short, stout bills. The bill's shape can vary depending upon the habitat and the type of food the birds eat. In most species, the bill, legs, and iris (colored part of eye) are dark and dull. However, in a few species the iris is pale yellow. Generally, the birds have brightly colored, soft, thick plumage (feathers), with striking differences in plumage features depending on the species. In fact, many plumage differences occur within species if they have wide areas in which they roam. Females and males are similar in characteristics, with females usually a bit smaller than males. They are well adapted to living in trees, having short, rounded wings and tails, and short but strong legs and feet. Titmice (sometimes shortened to tits) and chickadees have little difference in size within the family. They are 3.9 to 8.0 inches (10.0 to 20.5 centimeters) and weigh between 0.2 and 1.7 ounces (5 and 49 grams).


Titmice and chickadees are located in Europe, Asia, the far north and most parts of central and southern Africa, North America, and Mexico.


Titmice and chickadees are found in all habitats except those in the treeless Arctic zone, South America, the desert areas of Asia and Africa, and Australasia (region consisting of Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, and the neighboring islands of the South Pacific). Titmice and chickadees are specifically found in a wide variety of woodland areas from conifers and evergreen broad-leaved woodlands to deciduous broad-leaved woodlands. They are also found in parks, gardens, hedgerows, orchards, vineyards, open woodlands, and scrublands. The birds inhabit a range in altitudes from sea level to 14,764 feet (4,500 meters).


Titmice and chickadees eat many types of invertebrates (animals without backbones). They also eat seeds, nuts, fruits, and nectar (sweet liquid that flowering plants produce). Most species forage (search for food) in the canopies (uppermost layer of vegetation) of trees and scrubs. Some species forage on the ground. Titmice and chickadees in the northern regions of their habitats regularly store food (mostly insects and seeds).


All titmice and chickadees are quick and acrobatic in movement, often flying with daring maneuvers. They fly on short, quick flights that may be straight or in a slight up-and-down motion, regularly hopping from branch to branch and often hanging upside down in order to pry food from under tree bark. Some species of titmice and chickadees are able to regulate their nightly body temperature to conserve energy.

Most species live in pairs or small groups during breeding periods, being very territorial. They often join other species' flocks when they are not in breeding periods. Some species display aggressive behaviors when competing for food in flocks. Two such displays are a heads-up posture in species with black chests and crest-raising in crested species. Songs are rare among the birds, but they do make a wide variety of loud and frequent calls.

The birds nest mostly in tree cavities, holes, but also between rocks, in walls, on raised ground, and in artificially made materials such as pipes and nesting boxes. Birds use various soft nesting materials to line their nests. Most species nest between March and July, but others nest year-round or seasonally. Clutch size (group of eggs hatched together) varies between the various groups of titmice and chickadees, but generally ranges from four to ten eggs. Eggs are usually white or blushed pink with some red-brown spotting at the larger end of the egg. The incubation period (time to hatch eggs) is about fourteen days, and the brood period (time to raise young) is between fourteen and twenty-four days.


Titmice and chickadees have no known significance to humans, other than with respect to bird watching. The birds are relatively tame in the presence of humans and will nest in boxes made for them.


Most titmice and chickadees are common in most of their distributions. However, the white-naped tit is listed as Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction; while three species (the Palawan tit, the white-fronted tit, and the yellow tit) are listed as Near Threatened, in danger of becoming threatened with extinction.


Physical characteristics: Black-capped chickadees have white outer tail feathers (longer than other chickadees), light gray on the upperparts, white under parts, white cheeks, deep brownish buff sides and flanks, rather large, round heads with black caps (patch on top of head) and bibs (chest). They also have strong feet and claws that are blackish gray, as well as short black bills. Males and females are similar in physical features. They are 4.8 to 5.7 inches (12.3 to 14.6 centimeters) long and weigh between 0.3 and 0.5 ounces (10 to 14 grams).

Geographic range: They range throughout the northern part of the United States and throughout the southern parts of Canada, up to the northwestern part of Canada and the south and central parts of Alaska.

Habitat: Black-capped chickadees are found in deciduous, coniferous, and mixed woodlands, including open areas such as gardens and parks, willow and cottonwood thickets, and small groves of trees and suburban gardens.

Diet: Black-capped chickadees eat a great number of different invertebrates such as insects and their larvae (LAR-vee), caterpillars, spiders, beetles, ants, sawflies, millipedes, snails, and small amphibians (land animals that breed in water), along with wild fruits, seeds (such as of conifers and bayberries), and bark during winter months. They forage throughout the tree canopy, but prefer low branches and rarely go to the ground. They often hold large seeds between their feet on a perch and pound the seed coat open with their beak. They store food in preparation for winter.

Behavior and reproduction: Black-capped chickadees fly slowly but can be quick-moving around pine cones, twigs, and branches. They do not generally migrate except for the ones that live in mountainous regions, where they move to lower elevations during colder months. Outside of the breeding season, the birds form groups of several bird species. During breeding season, they are territorial. Their song is a simple, high "fee-bee" with the second note lower than the first, or "fee-bee-be." They have a variety of calls, including a loud "chick-a-dee-dee-dee."

The chickadees nest in the cavities of rotted birch or pine trees that are usually 1 to 10 feet (0.3 to 3.0 meters) off the ground, often with both males and females digging their own hole but sometimes using natural holes or abandoned woodpecker holes. Nests are cup-shaped consisting of plant fibers, feathers, and hairs that are set on top of a moss base. Females lay white eggs that are dotted with brown from mid-April to late May (sometimes into July). Usually a single clutch of five to thirteen (but usually six to eight) eggs is laid each year. Incubation period is eleven to thirteen days, and brooding period is from twelve to eighteen days.

Black-capped chickadees and people: Black-capped chickadees are attracted to gardens in which sunflower seeds, peanuts, or suet is available. There is no other special significance to humans.

Conservation status: Black-capped chickadees are not threatened, being common and very widespread with around 0.6 pairs per acre (0.25 pairs per hectacre). ∎


Physical characteristics: Great tits are larger than other titmice. They have a yellow underside, with a powerful-looking head and bill. Plumage varies with specific physical location, but generally has a black throat, crown, and vertical breast stripe, white cheeks, green back, blue rump, wings, and tail with a yellow breast. They are about 5.5 inches (14 centimeters) long, and weigh between 0.5 and 0.8 ounces (14 and 22 grams). The sexes look alike, but males are generally larger in size than females.

Geographic range: They range across Eurasia and into Southeast Asia and northern China. The species is generally considered the most widely spread of all the titmice and chickadees.

Habitat: They occur over a wide range of different woodland types, but prefer to live in lowland, broad-leaved deciduous woodlands, especially those with plenty of shrub growth. Great tits stay away from conifer forests. They are also found in open and semi-open woodland areas, including gardens, parks, and cemeteries.

Diet: Great tits eat many different types of invertebrates (mostly insects), seeds, nuts, and fruits. They forage within all parts of trees and shrubs, but prefer to be among the leaves. Their strong bill is able to open seeds as large as hazel nuts. They do not store food for the winter.

Behavior and reproduction: Great tits migrate out of mountainous altitudes for the winter months, but otherwise are considered non-migratory. They can sometimes be territorial during the year, but also join flocks of many bird species outside of the breeding season. The loud, repetitive singing of great tits has many variations, especially within males.

Nests, frequently used for several seasons, occur in cavities of trees, walls, and burrows; and sometimes in nest boxes placed by people. The cup-type nest is lined with fine grasses. Females begin to lay eggs in February in southern populations and can continue as late as May in northern populations. Two clutches are often laid each year, with three clutches seldom occurring. Clutch size varies widely from three to eighteen eggs. The incubation period is twelve to fifteen days and only the females incubate the eggs. The fledging period is between sixteen and twenty-two days.

Great tits and people: Some cultural significance exists, especially with Europeans, who maintain close associations with the birds. Great tits are often believed to be the most studied wild bird in the world.

Conservation status: Great tits are very common, but some populations are very small in number. ∎



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