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Juniper titmice busy at feeders in Santa Fe

October 1, 2018

We’ve had many reports of juniper titmice showing up at feeders around Santa Fe lately. Sometimes we start to see more titmice at feeders once nesting has wrapped up.

The juniper titmouse does not migrate but instead stays in or near its breeding grounds all year long. One technique used by titmice to survive a harsh winter is to stash seed in the crevices of trees or elsewhere to eat later.

This small, plain gray bird has prominent black eyes and a crest of feathers on its head. It is found in the piñon pine and juniper woodlands of the interior West at elevations from about 2,250 to 8,000 feet. It is found most commonly in more mature forests that offer more cavities for nesting. Often heard before they are seen, the rapid, scratchy chatter of the juniper titmouse has been compared to the sound of a video game.

Titmice pairs stay together for several years and protect their territory year-round. You might even notice two at a time visiting a feeder. The same habitat that attracts juniper titmice is perfect for woodpeckers, mountain chickadees, bushtits and white-breasted nuthatches, so don’t be surprised if you see them all at your feeders this fall and winter.

The juniper titmouse eats seeds, particularly piñon pine seeds, as well as plant material, insects and spiders. Look for juniper titmice to visit a feeder with sunflower or sunflower chips. You’ll sometimes catch them eating suet too. They also like peanut pieces and love seed and nut cylinders which offer many of their favorite foods in one place.

Juniper titmice often take one seed at a time from a feeder and fly off to a nearby branch to bust it open with their bill. They are one of the few birds, except raptors, that commonly hold food with their feet. They also use their especially strong feet to acrobatically dangle upside down from thin branches. This ability to easily cling onto twigs and branches makes foraging for food simpler. It makes it possible for them to reach all sorts of nooks and crannies that other birds might miss.

Anne Schmauss is the co-owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Santa Fe, and she loves to hear your bird stories. She is the author of For the Birds: A Month by Month Guide to Attracting Birds to Your Backyard and Birdhouses of the World.

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