The Amazing, yet common, Tufted Titmouse in NYC 1880-2018
Updated: Feb 28, 2020
21 November 2018
Notes: We are adding a Thanksgiving Day walk at 9:30am (only) meeting at the Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe. The Friday, 23 November is CANCELLED. Remember to check this web site for latest updates or cancellations to the Schedule - because the Monday, 25 November bird walk looks like a rain-out given the current forecast.
Autumn 2018 has been marked by an invasion of seed-eating birds coming from the Boreal Forest in upstate New York/Canada. In Central Park, we began seeing birds associated with northern forests in July with the appearance of Red-breasted Nuthatches. In late August we found the first Pine Siskin in the mid-Atlantic states, while others called attention to the higher than usual numbers of Purple Finches. These three species have steadily increased particularly from mid-October on. Other birds that are now arriving in the region include Evening Grosbeak (a lone female found in the northern half of Central Park on 19 November by Isaiah Sigman-Wender). A bit further afield (Long Island, upstate New York, Massachusetts) small flocks of Red Crossbills, Common Redpolls and Pine Grosbeaks have been seen. The latter two species would be the rarest of the Boreal seed-eating birds in NYC if history is any guide to what to expect in December and the New Year. As an aside, Boreal birds are "friendly" - one can usually approach them fairly closely, and they are not adverse to taking food from your hands (Red-breasted Nuthatches) or landing on your head (Pine Siskins). Finally, last week we called attention to another group of birds we might see in higher than expected number, forest owls. These birds feed on small mammals who in turn feed on seeds on the forest floor. With a poor crop of seeds from Boreal trees (such as conifers), forest owls come south in good number...perhaps we should be on the lookout for another Boreal Owl in the region. All this being said, we devote this issue to a common, seed-eating bird (as well as earthworms, fruit, suet etc.), the Tufted Titmouse. This autumn we are seeing Tufted Titmice in much higher than usual number throughout the NYC area including Central Park. So in this Newsletter we trace the historical record of the Tufted Titmouse in NYC from a very rare winter visitor not seen every year (1880-1960) to the occasional breeding species in Central Park (2000 to present). A bird does not have to be rare for it to be interesting...indeed common birds have amazing stories to tell if one looks closely: In Historical Notes on Tufted Titmice (a/b) we present info from the Bronx (1874) and Brooklyn (1898) that show the rarity of the Tufted Titmouse in our area as a winter resident; in (c) in May 1908 a Tufted Titmouse was seen for about two weeks in Central Park - a big deal at the time because it was the first record of this bird for the park; indeed in (d/e/f) we learn that until the early 1920s, even though the Tufted Titmouse was a breeding species in parts of New Jersey and even Staten Island, it otherwise was very rare in the other four boroughs of NYC. From 1935-1958 (g/h) the Tufted Titmouse was an occasional winter visitor to Central Park (but not Prospect Park in Brooklyn). By 1970 it was a winter resident in Central and Prospect Parks. Finally (i), we provide an article written by a young Peter Post PhD in 1978 who made counts during an irruption year when numbers of Tufted Titmice were seen streaming down Broadway in October (1978). How many of these birds will be tallied on the Christmas Bird Count this year? 135 Tufted Titmice were counted on the 17 December 1978 CBC in Central Park. Amazing!
Barred Owl by Deborah Allen in Central Park on Sunday, 18 November. There seem to be two individuals in the Ramble area. One seems to be particularly easy to see in the pine trees just down the steps (west) of Belvedere Castle.
Good! Here are the bird walks for late November - each $10***
All Bird Walks in Central Park 1. Thursday, 22 November (Thanksgiving Day) - 9:30am - Boathouse Restaurant.
2. Friday, 23 November - No BIRD WALK: CANCELLED
3. Saturday, 24 November - 7:30am/9:30am - Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park. 4. Sunday, 25 November - 7:30am/9:30am - Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park. 5. Mon, 26 November - 8:00am/9:00am - Strawberry Fields (Imagine Mosaic) at 72 st/CPW.
Any questions/concerns send them our way: email@example.com or call: 718-828-8262 (home) ***NOTE: on MORNINGS when two walks are scheduled (e.g., 7:30/9:30am), you can do both walks for $10/person...you get two for the price of one. Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/ya65n5a8
The fine print: On Saturdays and Sundays, our walks meet at 7:30am and again at 9:30am at the Boathouse Restaurant (approx. 74th street and the East Drive). Please note: the Boathouse is not one of the buildings that surround the nearby Model Boat Pond - people make this mistake all the time!. Our home phone is 718-828-8262...and Deborah's cell is: 347-703-5554. Email is above (= firstname.lastname@example.org). On Mondays we meet at 8am and again at 9am at Strawberry Fields (the benches near the "Imagine" Mosaic. Enter the park at 72nd street and Central Park West and walk about 1 minute due east on the main, paved path and find the Mosaic - we are sitting nearby. On Fridays we meet at Conservatory Garden located at 105th street and 5th Avenue. Enter through the main gates and walk down the steps - head straight ahead along the long, grassy area - we meet by the giant water spout between the men's room and the women's room. If in doubt about whether a walk will take place or not the morning of the walk: check the main landing page of this web site as well as the "Schedule" page - if the walk is cancelled, information will be posted there by 6am the day of the walk, and usually by 11pm the night before. If still confused and as a last resort, call us at home - if no one answers it means we left for the bird walk! We end all our weekend and Monday Central Park walks at the Boathouse at about noon; you can get a cup of coffee and a muffin there (around $6 total). For our Friday walks, we usually end up at (or very near) Conservatory Garden, most often at 106th street and 5th Avenue. Walks last about 3 hrs (less if hot or rainy), and you can leave at anytime - we won't be offended. If you need directions/help to your next destination, just ask someone on the walk - we are a helpful group.
American Tree Sparrow photographed by Deborah Allen at Sparrow Rock (Central Park) early Sunday morning 18 November. Once a common migrant and winter resident in NYC Parks, especially along the coast, numbers of these sparrows have dropped by more than 80% in NYC parks in the last 75 years. Perhaps they are wintering further north?
Here is what we saw last week
(selected highlights; the full list for each day is available at the links below): Friday, 16 November (Conservatory Garden at 105th St. and 5th Avenue at 9am) - It began snowing Thursday afternoon and by the time the precipitation ended early this Friday morning, we had 5-6inches of snow - the earliest significant amount (greater than 2 inches) of snow ever recorded in NYC. Deborah's list of birds for Friday, 16 November: No list for today - RAIN
Deborah Allen's list of birds for Friday 16 November: Rain! No Bird Walk and No List
Saturday, 17 November (Boathouse Restaurant at 7:30am and 9:30am) - I was hoping for finches today: Purple Finches, Pine Siskins for example, because of the continued hours of winds from the northwest. No luck on these birds but we did have a lot of good sightings: three Red-breasted Nuthatches; a juvenile White-crowned Sparrow at the bird feeders, and a Cooper's Hawk here that we watched swoop in to catch a bird. Also in the Ramble were a couple of Winter Wrens and also a Carolina Wren - no wrens were found on the following day (Sunday, 18 November). We also had Marianne Sutton MD back with us joining an all-star cast of regulars.
Deborah Allen's list of birds for Sat. 17 Nov: https://tinyurl.com/ybw67pes
Sunday, 18 November (Boathouse Restaurant at 7:30am and 9:30am) - whenever a bird walk produces not one but two owl species - that is a good day! So despite fewer birds/species than yesterday, the owls hit home runs for us: the little Northern Saw-whet perched over the main path up from the Boathouse that leads into the Ramble; and the Barred Owl sitting high in a Pin Oak adjacent to the bird feeders. The latter was ultimately chased off by a small group of American Crows into another part of the Ramble. Meanwhile our guess is that the Saw-whet Owl has been around several days in Central Park, and is probably the one Bard Kane found perched adjacent to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (northwest corner). We make this guess because the owl today was sitting on a very thin drooping branch over the path - not a branch that a squirrel (of which there are many many in the park) would venture out upon. I bet someone will find this owl again in the park in the near future. As for other birds, Deborah's American Tree Sparrow and American Woodcock, found before the bird walk, were not refound again by us. On the other hand, we did find two Yellow-rumped Warblers and four amazingly close Golden-crowned Kinglets. How close? When Elizabeth Millard-Whitman looked down they were not at her feet, but perched on a fence at her knees. Other highlights: the Red-breasted Nuthatch at the Pinetum that zoomed into the calls from my tape and sat a few feet from us...two Cooper's Hawks, displaying male Hooded Mergansers...but oh those ooools.
Deborah Allen's list of birds for Sunday, 18 November: https://tinyurl.com/ydxxvqh4
Monday, 19 November (Strawberry Fields at 8am and again at 9am) - did I mention we found the Barred Owl very low and easy to see in a Holly tree near the Gill Overlook in the Ramble? Add to this a flock of 25 or so Pine Siskins, 3 Purple Finches and two juvenile male Cooper's Hawks chasing each other back and forth through the Ramble in the area of the bird feeders. Sprinkle with some Fox Sparrows = a fine Monday.
Deborah Allen's list of birds for Monday, 19 November: https://tinyurl.com/yc5oayrc
White Breasted Nuthatches - though the Red-breasteds keep getting all our attention,
recently the White-breasts have become the most common nuthatch in the park far and away.
Lophophanes bicolor. Tufted Titmouse . This species is to be included among our winter birds on the recent authority of Mr. Eugene P. Bicknell, who observed one on November 29, 1874, in a piece of open woodland, near his residence, at Riverdale [Bronx], N.Y. For several weeks thereafter this bird was occasionally noticed about the same spot, and without doubt remained during the winter, as he felt certain of having heard it in January, and the following March it was often seen or heard about the same woods, being then in full song. It disappeared after March 28. As long ago as 1844 Dr. DeKay wrote: "This lively and noisy bird appears in the southern counties of our State about the first of May, and remains with us until very late in the autumn, and indeed may be said to be a constant resident." It has never been observed in the Hudson Highlands. EDGAR A. MEARNS
Tufted Titmouse by Deborah Allen in Central Park on 29 November 2012
Parus bicolor. . The Tufted Titmouse is observed so infrequently on Long Island that it is considered proper to place the following note of its occurrence on record. I heard and saw an individual of this species at Sheepshead Bay on March 14 and 15, 1898. A thick grove of cedars, almost impenetrable in many places by reason of thick underbrush and cat-briar, stands, or then stood, on the edge of the salt-meadows at that place. Here, on the date first mentioned I saw Crows, Goldfinches, White-throated and Song Sparrows, Robins, Purple Grackles, one Red-winged Blackbird, Myrtle Warblers and one Golden-winged Woodpecker [Northern Flicker]. My attention was attracted by the clear, whistled note of what I at once recognized as the Tufted Titmouse. I heard intermittently for about a quarter of an hour the series of notes, which sound like pe-tel-you, pe-tel-you, pe-tel-you, but did not succeed in getting sight of the singer. Wishing to confirm what I considered a rare find for Long Island, I returned the next day. The bird was still there and singing, and without much trouble, by imitating the song, I coaxed him out of the thicket into plain sight. No doubt existed in my mind as to the identification, as I am familiar with the songs of the bird and its appearance in life. Giraud in his Birds of Long Island (1844), wrote as though Parus bicolor were common at that time. It is also included in Lawrence's List. But one specimen, bearing no date, is extant in the Long Island Historical Society's collection. I consider it a very rare straggler on Long Island. William C. Braislin M.D.
Tufted Titmouse in Central Park (1908) A Tufted Titmouse spent nearly two weeks in May of this year (1908) in Central Park. It was not shy but, on the contrary, rather enjoyed getting near and surprising you by a loud whistle continuing five minutes or more. I think this is the only record of this species for Central Park. Anne A. Crolius, New York City.
TUFTED TITMOUSE (Baeolophus bicolor) - 1923 Ludlow Griscom: The Birds of the New York City Region.  The Tufted Titmouse is a species of the Carolinian Zone, which reaches its extreme northern limit in this territory, and apparently now breeds a little further north in New Jersey than it formerly did. It is of purely accidental occurrence on the east side of the Hudson River. Long Island. Stated by Giraud  to be common in his day; now accidental, only four definite records, the most recent a single bird near Coney Island, 25 September 1921 (Ralph Friedmann). New York State. A permanent resident on Staten Island; accidental elsewhere; recorded from Williamsbridge [Bronx], New York City (George N. Lawrence). CENTRAL PARK. One record, a bird present for two weeks in May, 1908 (Anne A. Crolius). BRONX REGION. Accidental; 29 November 1874 to 28 March 1875 at Riverdale (Bicknell); 12 February 1911 (Griscom); end of March, 1914 (A. A. Saunders); 6 November 1919 (L. N. Nichols) to 20 May 1920 in Bronx Park (numerous observers). New Jersey. A common permanent resident from the Raritan River north to Elizabeth, Plainfield, Orange, Summit, Morristown, and in recent years to Englewood; recorded once at Montclair (Rowland), once at Lake Hopatcong (Dwight); a nesting colony near Andover, Sussex County (P. B. Philipp). ENGLEWOOD [N.J.] REGION. Formerly a rare spring visitant, first found wintering in 1900 (Chapman); a permanent resident by 1907, increasing, and fairly common by 1913; exterminated by the heavy snowfall in February and March 1920; reappeared in May 1921, and at present there are one or two resident pairs (Griscom).
Tufted Titmouse - 1935-1958 Central Park. One present for two weeks in May 1908 (Crolius); 14 August 1937 (Stephenson); 20 March 1949 (Helmuth); 24 October 1953 to 19 March 1954 (many observers); 23 March 1957 (Bloom, Post); 2 to 10 October 1957 (maximum six birds - Bloom, Carleton). Tufted Titmouse - 1959-1970 Central Park. Now a regular winter resident. A pair lingered through May 1966; no evidence of nesting. Prospect Park. Two birds appeared on 5 November 1960, and the species has been resident since; no evidence of nesting. Maximum 4 on 26 December 1965 (Raymond).
An irruption of Tufted Titmice in the Northeast  An apparently unprecedented movement by a supposedly non-incursive species Peter W. Post THE TUFTED TITMOUSE, Parus bicolor, is described in the ornithological literature as a sedentary (nonmigratory) species (Pough,1949; Bull,1974), and is not among the species listed by Cornwallis (1964) known to be subject to irregular or periodic invasions or irruptions. This brief report places on record what is apparently the first known instance of a directional irruption of Tufted Titmice, which occurred in the Northeast in the fall of 1978. The first indication that something unusual was happening was an observation of a flock of Tufted Titmice moving south on October 10 at 9:45 a.m. among the trees which separate the lanes of Broadway, in mid-Manhattan. The following day, 100+ titmice moved through the leafy area of Central Park known as the Ramble, and its surrounding area. The maximum count of titmice seen in this area in the preceding months was four! Titmice were encountered in flocks of 4-12 individuals. The birds were actively foraging on the ground as well as among the bushes and tree tops. No particular plant species seemed to be preferred. Small flocks of titmice were observed moving south through the trees, and across the lawns and other open spaces. Large numbers of titmice continued moving through the Ramble and surrounding areas in subsequent weeks. During mid-October and into November  titmice were frequently observed along mid-Manhattan streets. Individuals and small flocks were seen perched on television antennas, flying south over rooftops, and among ornamental plantings along Broadway. A particularly large movement was noted on the lower east side of Manhattan during the early morning of October 23. An estimated 100-300 individuals were observed feeding and moving south among the ornamental plantings there. By 10 a.m. most of the birds had disappeared. Elsewhere in New York City, in Brooklyn, two flocks of titmice were seen October 15. A Brooklyn observer had seen titmice only six times in ten years of observation. Up to 15-20 titmice in mid-October in Kissina Park, Queens County and 15 birds in a residential area October 18, were encountered where 4-6 were normal. Titmice in varying numbers were seen during October and November in various parts of Long Island where previously unrecorded or rarely found: at Montauk Point on October 21 an observer's first Tufted Titmouse in that area in 13 years of observing flew in from over the ocean. THE RECORDS INDICATE that the first few "migrant" Tufted Titmice arrived in New York City during the last week of September and the first week of October. Large numbers, however, did not appear until the following week. The movement peaked between October 10 and 23. Thereafter numbers decreased, but birds continued moving through the area at least until late November. One hundred and thirty-five titmice were recorded in Central Park, December 17, on the Manhattan-Lower Hudson Christmas Bird Count. The previous high count for titmice was 17 birds on December 18, the previous year. The large numbers of titmice recorded on the count apparently remained throughout the winter. The constantly monitored New York City parks and the comparative rarity of Tufted Titmice in the city and on much of Long Island make for ideal conditions for observing irruptions of the kind described here and which might otherwise go unnoticed. It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that the only other indications of the extent of this irruption elsewhere in the Northeast are also from areas where the Tufted Titmouse is uncommon or previously unknown. In "late" October on a day following the passage of a dramatic cold front Peter Dunne, of the Cape May Bird Observatory, noted the "very unusual occurrence" of one or more groups of 8-15 titmice moving through Phragmites near the lighthouse at Cape May Point, Cape May County, New Jersey. Starting in mid-October and into the first week of November Tufted Titmice "poured" north into southern Maine and New Hampshire (Peter D. Vickery). This coincides with the timing of the southward movement of titmice into New York City. Two to four titmice, with a maximum of five, could be found at almost every active feeder along the coast of Maine up to and just north of Portland, Cumberland County. Lesser numbers occurred as far north as Brunswick, Cumberland County, and Rockland, Knox County. The most northerly record was from Old Town, Penobscot County, just north of Bangor. Interestingly, as in New York the majority of birds did not remain past November, although "unprecedented numbers" were still present at Maine feeders into January. The magnitude of these numbers is in marked contrast to the 5-15 individuals recorded from Maine during the past five years. IN NEW ENGLAND titmice penetrated inland into New Hampshire as far as Littleton, Grafton County. In New York, Robert P. Yunick mist-netted and banded a titmouse on December 23, at Jenny Lake, near Corinth, Saratoga County, and two more on January 6. Jenny Lake is located at an elevation of 1200 feet in the Adirondacks, and is heavily forested with white pine, hemlock, spruce and associated hardwoods. As far as I am aware these records are unique. Beehler (1978) in his Birdlife of the Adirondack Park gives only four previous records, all from lower elevations in the Champlain Valley, on the eastern edge of the park. Irruptions are typical of food specialists resident in northern coniferous forests or northern broad-leaved forests (which often contain a mixture of conifers). It is currently believed that irruptions are a consequence of a population buildup over several years followed by a "crash" in the food supply (cf Cornwallis, 1964; Welty, 1975). Interestingly, there was virtually no movement this past fall or winter of Black-capped Chickadees, Parus atricapillus, a close relative of the Tufted Titmouse which is well known for its periodic irruptions in the Northeast. Yet, both species are primarily insect-eaters with seemingly similar diets (Bent, 1946). It has also been postulated that high numbers of birds may act as a proximal stimulus for these irruptions (Lack, 1954). The answer, perhaps, in this case, may lie in the recent range expansion of the Tufted Titmouse into the Northeast. Did the birds in fact originate to the north of New York City, or was what we witnessed a "return flight" after a northward movement, earlier in the season, to the west of us? Over how wide an area did this movement occur? What effect will this irruption have on titmouse range expansion? With the help of the readers of American Birds, perhaps these and other intriguing questions can be answered. The author would, therefore, appreciate receiving records of any unusual numbers or occurrences of Tufted Titmice noted last fall (1978) or winter. Please include location (including county), number of birds, date, any unusual behavior, and most importantly the normal and historical status of titmice in that area. Please include name, address and telephone number. The author thanks the many persons who generously provided information. They include Jim Ash, George Dadone, Thomas H. Davis, Jr., John Farrand Jr., Rich Kelly, Sheila Madden, Robert O. Paxton, William Reilly, Martin Sohmer, Mary Stapleton, Timothy Stiles, Peter Tozzi, Peter Vickery and Emil Willemetz. Peter Post. Dermatology Division, F-342, Cornell University Medical College, 1300 York Avenue, New York, NY 10021.
Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD Follow us on Twitter: @DAllenNYC and/or @BirdingBobNYC
Central Park along the Lock (North Woods) on 7 November 2008