Sunday, June 19, 2005

Birdblogging: Oak Titmouse

I took some time this afternoon to just sit in the shade about 12 feet away from one of our bird feeder "trees." These are stout wood poles (about 8" diameter) fitted with six cast-iron "branches" to hold feeders. We have three of these trees, with feeders on each for oil sunflower, Nyjer thistle, and safflower seeds. Also, right next to this particular tree we have a pole with another feeder: a suet/bug/seed mixture designed to attract woodpeckers, but which so far has attracted only nuthatches and grosbeaks (but ok on both of them!).

Anyway, one of birds that landed on the feeder whilst I was lurking was this perky little oak titmouse (baeolophus inornatus). Debi and I really enjoy watching these little guys — they flit about in a big hurry, rarely lighting anywhere for more than a few moments. This makes them a serious photographic challenge, and these pictures (click on them for a larger version) are the first in-focus pictures of the oak titmouse that I've ever been able to take. I've got a couple of additional ones that I didn't post, because they're blurry, but they're interesting nonetheless, as they show a behavior peculiar (at our house, anyway) to the oak titmouse. They will grasp an oil sunflower seed between their claws while they're perched on the cast-iron branch, and then hammer away at it like a woodpecker to get the hull off. Apparently their beaks are not strong enough to simply crack it, as a larger bird like a finch or jay would do. So he does it the hard way...

In our Sibley guide, the range for the oak titmouse is very limited; parts of California and a little bit of south-central Oregon. As usual they give the song in some kind of code that apparently makes sense to some people, but which I've never figured out. I know the song of the oak titmouse, and what I know doesn't seem to fit Sibley's description at all. Here's how Sibley says the oak titmouse sounds: "Song of strong, whistled, repeated phrases tjiboo...or paired tuwituwi...and other variations." Is that clear to you? If it is, could you please explain it to this befuddled one?

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