Bird of the Week

Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the juniper titmouse.

In a wintertime pinyon-juniper woodland, the hammering sound usually associated with woodpeckers may reveal the presence of a small juniper titmouse. When feeding on pinyon seeds and juniper berries, the titmouse cracks the hard shell by pounding it against a tree branch. While holding it with its feet, it pries the shell open with its stout bill to extract the seed. Its chickadee cousin employs the same strategy to open sunflower seeds.

This active bird with the fun name is all gray, paler below than on top. Titmice are named for their high-pitched calls and mouse-like scurrying behavior within a tree. They have a round, stout bill and beady black eyes. The raised crest of head feathers match its perky appearance with its inquisitive nature.

Titmice pairs remain together for life and defend territories all year. They generally don’t migrate from their breeding grounds, surviving winter by storing seeds in tree crevices. Outside of winter, their diet is insect rich. They are cavity nesters, utilizing natural holes in dead trees and stumps, abandoned woodpecker holes and nest boxes.

Juniper titmice are habitat specialists of juniper-pinyon woodlands. The most reliable place to find them in our area is near Navajo Lake. Their small range includes Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and southwest Colorado, with nearly half of their breeding territories found in New Mexico. As with the pinyon jay, the main threat to the survival of juniper titmice is the conversion of pinyon-juniper habitats to pasture land.

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