Thursday, October 09, 2008

Sally's Tufted Titmouse Plus a Handful of Hummingbirds

Photo courtesy of Bill Rossiter
Tufted Titmouse, Baeolophus bicolor

I received an email from Sally of Kentucky with a very interesting sighting--

Dear Donna

So, I am sitting here this evening kind of looking at the deck out of the corner of one eye as I work on the computer and I notice something happening right outside the door, under my grill. I suspect it is a titmouse or a chickadee, as they often forage in there, seeming to get little insects hiding in that corner. Low and behold, not one, but two titmice emerge from the little rack under the grill, one with a mouth full of downy dog hair that my border collie mix has been losing the past month! Now, even if they are my year-round residents, WHY are they collecting hair this time of year? It looks like spring nesting behavior in October!


Now why would a titmouse be collecting hair in October?

I started digging. Though I've not found a specific reference to hair collecting in Autumn by Titmouse perhaps there is something about them that might give us a clue to at least a hypothesis as to why this bird was collecting hair so late in the year.

They nest in cavities.
They are inveterate, almost rabid hair collectors.
Titmouse cache food for future winter use.
Cavities have been found with literally pounds of hair inside.
It's thought that Titmouse mate for life.
A bonded pair is usually resident year round in their territory.
Often young from the previous year overwinter in the natal territory with their parents.
Sometimes unrelated juveniles will join with these family groups to overwinter.
The thought is that this may be a way for young Titmouse to meet mates.
Some parids are able to lower their body temperature during roosting to conserve calories.

1. So far I've not found out if Titmouse use a cavity in winter to roost. If they do, might they not put some hair in it as they do for nesting?

2. Titmouse mate for life. Many species who do this, pick mates much earlier in the season than do birds who choose from those who shows up after Spring migration. Could this be a case of a young bird attempting to show what a good provider he'll be to a prospective mate?

3. Bonded pairs, have ongoing courtship bond activities to strengthen the pair bond throughout the year. Could the presentation of wads of dog hair, make Mrs. Titmouse's heart beat even faster for her gift giving mate?

4. Mr. Titmouse is confused and has somehow been cued to perform nesting behavior. Perhaps like Red-tails who have not had a successful nest, instead of clicking into care of young mode, Titmouse may follow a descending arc in reverse order of their Spring nesting activities.

If anyone has closely observed Tufted Titmouse, let us know.

Speaking of Titmouse, here is something I discovered in my Titmouse digging expedition--

Photo courtesy of Bill Rossiter

May 8, 2008
Prefers woman’s hair: Little bird is a picky nest builder

For three years in a row now, presumably the same little tufted titmouse has become fixated on Ms. Rossiter’s long, wavy locks, her “thatch” as she describes it, during nest-building season.


Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Archilochus colubris

From Carol Studebaker of WI--

Abagail Alfano of Pine, Louisiana lives along a Hummingbird migration route. One morning there were 20 or so birds in her yard. She took the cup containing sugar water from the feeder they had visited on previous days, and held it in her hand. She feels that as the hummers had gotten used to her standing by the feeder previously, they came over to her hand. She says in touching they are as light as a feather.

Perhaps the hummingbirds were familiar with Abagail Alfano and therefore felt comfortable coming to her hand as she often stood near the feeder to observe her resident birds closely.

Though hummingbirds in the throes of hyperphagia prior to migration have been known to try to latch onto the red patches on clothing and hats that people were wearing.

The female on the right seems to be giving the male a piece of her mind.

Donegal Browne


Karen Anne said...

The Titmouse story reminds me that years ago, when I was growing up, I had a parakeet who would land on my Mom's head, pull out her hairpins and drop them on the floor. Why would he do that, any idea? Thanks.

Donegal Browne said...

Hi Karen,

First of all parrot related birds dearly love to take things apart. When the maintenance man comes to service the AC, it's all we can do to stop Quicksilver from climbing down to the floor and going over next to him so he can watch the process. Which tends to make the service man pretty nervous. Which could lead to Silver taking advantage of his nerves to steal small important parts and hold them hostage to see what would happen next

From my experience, many birds like hairpins. It's rather a form of taking things apart. First they have to find them. Then pull them out with the added bonus that the hair then changes shape. That's interesting. Also with some birds I've gotten the impression that the bird doesn't believe the pins should really be there so they should be gotten rid of. Silver eventually discovered the little plastic nibs on the tips. Those were quite satisying to chew off after getting bored with just pulling out the pins.

Did anyone laugh when the parakeet pulled out the pins and dropped them on the floor? Parrots and Parakeets dearly love a good joke. And they love to figure out ways to get laughs and attention. Conceivably your parakeet initially was giving into the urge to take things apart, got laughs, and the show began.

Did you parakeet ever try to remove your teeth? For some reason, young parrots in particular, first want to investigate your teeth. Possibly because they don't have any? And will keep after you until you finally let them. Okay, fine. But then invariably they seem to decide that the teeth shouldn't be there and perhaps they can help you out by removing them. So they may give them a little tug to test the waters. When told no, they don't usually keep it up. Which is interesting because sometimes no, just makes things more interesting to a parrot. Perhaps in the case of teeth however, because the no, is usually quite heartfelt, if you know what I mean, they don't keep trying it.

Whereas getting attention and even possibly laughs for fulling pins and dropping them on the floor, would keep a parakeet coming back for more.

Karen Anne said...

I think probably everyone laughed (maybe even my Mom :-)

The teeth, I don't recall happening.

But the hairpins were a regular event, often when Mom was doing the dishes, so her hands were wet and soapy so she couldn't do anything about it. Sometimes the hairpins, which had to be dragged over to the edges of her head so they would fall to the ground, would land in the dish pan...