Tit-tit-titter – it’s Titmouse time!

Ah what a beautiful Sunday morning!  

Yesterday I was walking in from the mail box when two titmice bounced up to say Hi. They are so funny, so tiny, so unafraid. I guess when you’re that small, you can’t be afraid of anything.  They chattered and tit’d at me for a few seconds, as if trying to ask, “seen any good nesting material lately?” And then they noticed one of those seed balls from the sycamore along the driveway, and just attacked it, tearing loose the brownish flush, and stuffing it into their mouths. They took off into the branches of our old cedar, where they build a couple of nests every year.

A tit’s nest is like an old sock, hanging from a branch. They use all kinds of stuff – tree fluff, dryer lint, what have you.  I’ve even seen them hop up to a spider’s web, snatch the spider out of the middle and eat it, and then wind the spider web around their bill and fly away with it. They are voracious buggers, stopping often during their fluff hunt to snatch various flying insects out of the air. They’re so small, I will see them later this spring, scouring the oak trees for the tiny gall wasps. Once those eggs hatch, they will be collecting bugs like crazy. 

Next time you hear somebody say “Man” is the dominant creature on the planet, remind yourself – they mean, the most overbearing, the most enduringly stupid, the most successful. And then remind yourself – “successful” doesn’t mean nice, in fact, it usually means, “lied, cheated, and stole!” 

Animals are incredibly intelligent. Try building something with nothing but your mouth, for example. And then try to make it a piece of genius, like titmouse does. Titmouse, a tiny mouthful, has a lot of enemies, chief among them, our own endearing blue jays. Blue jays will eat your babies, let me tell you that. They are the worst nest robbers you have ever seen. One day at Caper Acres I stood among a group of moms and tots, our mouths wide open with horror as a pair of blue jays raided a robins’ nest. Mother and father robin flapped around helplessly, making these pathetic crying sounds, but doing nothing to stop it. Blue jays can be big assholes. 

So titmice build their nest with a fake entrance, leading into a little empty chamber at the top of the next. This door, a little flap over a hole, is made very obvious, a person can spot it from the ground. But hidden below, with master stitching, is another little entrance, leading to a chamber lower and to the back of the nest, where as many as five or six babies are tucked away. And when father and mother, and usually, older sisters, come to feed the babies, they are very stealthy, approaching the nest with eyes on the backs of their heads. If there is any kind of threat, they will fly away and make another approach. The babies, meanwhile, will sit silent. They don’t cry like people think, until they get a signal from their approaching adult – a little peep from the end of a nearby branch. The babies immediately go to crying – peeppeeppeeppeeppeep! – and the adult moves in quickly, popping through the secret hole. I only know this because I have stationed myself on the ground below for many hours.  

I’ve also seen Blue Jay watch, he’s so smart. But I’ve never seen him figure his way into a nest.  Tit mice are also very ferocious defenders – they “rat pack” their enemies, a little storm of furious dust-puppies. It would take at least two blue jays to rob one of those nests. I’ve never seen it, and if I did, I’d be out there with a stick in a New York minute. I don’t believe in the Prime Directive, not in my yard. 

But it’s been pure luck that I’ve seen them fledge – one day, looking up at a nest, I saw them suddenly pop out, like popcorn coming out of a hot air popper, except, they came out one by one. Pop pop pop! I could hardly count them, it happened so fast, and all the sudden, the air around me seemed full of tits!  There are other nests around, not just this one out my windows. And when they hatch, they just seem to be every where for a couple of weeks, flying in little clusters, like so many leaves riding a gust of wind.  They seem to come out of the nest just as the bug population is also exploding. 

They are gone by the end of June, when the heat sets in. I know robins and juncos head for the hills when they leave the valley, but I don’t know where the titmice go. That’s why I’m so specially glad to see them when they tit-tit-titter their way into my yard at  this time of year. 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s