Foam Lake Birding No. 77

No. 77
March has arrived and, hopefully, with it spring. Down here that means summer-like weather, which will be a welcome change from the generally cold wet winter that we have been having. The locals claim that this is/was the worst winter ever, at least weather wise. I have no reason to doubt this. Anyway, weather forecasters are predicting warm and usually sunny days for the foreseeable future. I hope they are right as the trees are starting to leaf out and the flowering plants are starting to bloom. All we need is spring.
This week I want to cover a confiding little bird that, down here, replaces the Black Capped Chickadee back home – the Black Crested Titmouse. Older bird books list three species of titmice in North America, however, two of the species have been split and now we have five. Now that is inflation. The five species are: the Oak Titmouse of California, the Juniper Titmouse of Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah, (these two were formerly combined as Plain Titmouse); the Bridled Titmouse of southern Arizona; the Tufted Titmouse of the eastern half of North America including Southern Ontario, the Black Crested Titmouse of south and central Texas, (these three were formerly combined as Tufted Titmouse). (For a more detailed discussion of titmice see article No. 23). To date I have seen only two of them – the Bridled and the Black Crested.
As previously mentioned, the Black Crested Titmouse is the “chickadee” of southern Texas. It behaves like a chickadee because it belongs to the same family even making a kind of “chick-a-dee” sound. We have put out feeders in our yard and the Black Crested Titmice frequent them daily providing us with a really good look. It kind of reminds us of home.
Behavior-wise, the sparrow sized Black Crested Titmouse is much like a chickadee but, physically, there are marked differences. Rather than being plump, big headed and fluffy looking like a chickadee, the titmouse is long tailed and slender. The body is a light whitish grey overall with darker grey wings and tail which gives the bird a very nondescript appearance that, at first glance, makes it easy to overlook. Upon closer examination several distinct features stand out that do not require the use of binoculars to discern them. The most noticeable physical characteristic is the black crest and forehead. Add to that a sharp black little beak and large beady black eyes and the bird cannot be confused with anything else. Unlike a chickadee, it constantly makes a sharp little squeak when foraging that sounds much like that of a mouse. Maybe that is where it gets its name of titmouse?
Taking pictures of any member of the titmouse family is difficult, to say the least, as they are constantly flitting about in search of food. However, with patience and a little good luck I did get several good shots out of what must be “gazillions”. Thank heavens for digital cameras. This week’s photo shows off the prominent features of the Black Crested Titmouse – the black crest and forehead, sharp black beak and big beady black eye.