The Amazing, yet common, Tufted Titmouse in NYC/LI 1840-2022

Updated: Oct 30


Peregrine Falcon at State Line Lookout (NJ) on 14 October 2022

27 October 2022


Bird Notes: This week is the last of the full-time bird walks for Autumn 2022: October 28-31 = Fri/Sat/Sun and Monday). From 1 November through 11 December, there will only be Sunday morning bird walks at 9:30am (no 7:30am walks) that will meet at the Dock on Turtle Pond (and not The Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe). You can always find all our bird walks here: SCHEDULE + Meeting Locations HERE. Meanwhile Deborah and I are off to Namibia-Botswana in November (returning December). In our absence, Sandra Critelli will run the bird walks as she has been doing for several years whenever we go somewhere. She is wonderful. Sandra's cell phone is: 917-495-2348 (email: s.cri@icloud.com)


On 1 November, ok we are off to Namibia-Botswana, driving a 4 wheel Toyota pick-up truck (see video HERE), camping out where we can. Our route will take us from the coast (Walvis Bay) where we look forward to seeing two species of flamingo plus shorebirds that have come south from the Eurasian Arctic to spend the winter. We then head north to Etosha National Park and east across the Caprivi Strip (divides northern Namibia from Angola). Heading further east we go to Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) and drop down south to Chobe and Moremi National Parks in Botswana (where the campgrounds are not fenced off from the wildlife - don't tell Deborah). Then on a mad dash 7-8 December we drive west back to the airport in Windhoek (Namibia) to fly home. We will do our best to publish a "running" (driving?) Newsletter with updates along the way - look for the next one on or about 9 November 2022. See you on the bird walk Sunday, 11 December (9:30am)!


Meanwhile, starting Sunday, 6 November there will only be 9:30am walks meeting at the Dock on Turtle Pond. Sandra Critelli is covering/leading those walks in our absence. Once again her cell is: 917-495-2348 and email: SandraCritelli@gmail.com


In our Historical Notes we send info on the Tufted Titmouse 1840-2022 (a/b) in the NYC-LI area. It was a fairly common bird on LI in 1840...but then a decline for unknown reasons occurs. It becomes a rare winter resident in the Bronx (1874) and Brooklyn (1898); 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 about an irruption year (1978) when numbers of Tufted Titmice were seen streaming down Broadway that October (much like this year and 2018 and 2020). On the 17 December 1978 Christmas Bird Count in Central Park (CBC), 135 Tufted Titmice were counted in that irruption year. How many will be tallied on the CBC this year? How many Tufted Titmice are in Central Park on a good day in mid-October 2022 (100? 200? 500? 1000?)? BY the way, the December 2021 CBC in Central Park recorded 0 (zero) Tufted Titmice.

(above) Tufted Titmouse The Bronx (our yard) 25 October 2022 Deborah Allen

(below) Tufted Titmouse in Michigan October 2017 Doug Leffler

Bird Walks for Late October/Early November 2022

All Walks @ $10/person

Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found: (Click) here


1. Friday, 28 October 8:30am. Bird Walk. Conservatory Garden (105th street and 5th Avenue) $10. Deb is back leading today's walk - last Friday walk until March 2023.


2. Saturday, 29 October at 7:30am and again at 9:30am. Bird Walk. Boathouse Cafe; 74th street/East Drive $10. If you do the 7:30am walk, you get the 9:30am walk for free. Last Satuday walk until March 2023.


3. Sunday, 30 October at 7:30am and again at 9:30am. Bird Walk. Boathouse Cafe; 74th street/East Drive $10. If you do the 7:30am walk, you get the 9:30am walk for free.


4. Monday, 31 October. 8:30am. Bird Walk. Strawberry Fields (72nd street and Central Park West) $10.

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1. Sunday, 6 November at 9:30am (only - no 7:30am walk). Meet at the Dock on Turtle Pond $10. The Dock on Turtle Pond is located mid-park at 79th street opposite Belvedere Castle. Sandra Critelli leads this bird walk: 917-495-2348


2. Sunday, 13 November at 9:30am (only - no 7:30am walk). Meet at the Dock on Turtle Pond $10. The Dock on Turtle Pond is located mid-park at 79th street opposite Belvedere Castle. Sandra Critelli leads this bird walk: 917-495-2348

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Call (718-828-8262) or Email us with questions: rdcny@earthlink.net

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The fine print: Our walks on weekends meet at 7:30/9:30am at the Boathouse Restaurant (approx. 74th street and the East Drive) until and including 30 October. Starting Sunday 6 November, we have 9:30am walks only meeting at the Dock on Turtle Pond. Check the Meeting Locations (CLICK HERE) page of our web site for detailed directions.


Our home phone is 718-828-8262...and Deborah's cell is: 347-703-5554. Email is (rdcny@earthlink.net). If you are lost and trying to get to the bird walk, call Deborah's cell phone...but remember on weekends there will be 2-3 other people calling who are also lost - please be patient. 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. Walks last about 2.5 hrs (less if hot or rainy), and you can leave at anytime - we won't be offended. If you need directions or help to your next destination, just ask someone on the walk - we aim to please. We end all our Central Park walks (except Fridays) near the Boathouse at about noon; Please note: the Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe (and even the outdoor Bathrooms) are CLOSED until March 2023.


(below) Black-and-white Warbler Central Park 21 October 2022 Deborah Allen

(below) Blackpoll Warbler in the Bronx at Ferry Point Park 11 October 2022 Deborah Allen

Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights): the ongoing story this October is/are the number of Tufted Titmice. It was not uncommon for me to play my calls and bring in 10-20 at a time in many areas (north to very south) of Central Park. By comparison the number of Red-breasted Nuthatches (on a good day) may be on the order of 7-10 throughout the park. In early July some folks were touting that this would be an amazing irruption year for Red-breasted Nuthatches because they began to arrive in NYC in small numbers. We took a wait and see position...and we now see (by 20 October) more White-breasted Nuthatches in the park than the smaller RBNU. And unlike autumn 2020 we are seeing no Pine Siskins, and are not holding our breath that we will be overrun with Evening Grosbeaks or either species of Crossbill. Also unlike October 2020, there have been no Barred (or Saw-whet) owls arriving in Central Park, though Barred Owls have been seen in Manhattan (Inwood Hill Park and Randall's Island). We cross our fingers that we get one or two (the record is five in November 2020) in Central Park.


Otherwise, numbers of Hermit Thrushes are on the increase, while Ruby-crowned Kinglets are dwindling in the park. It has been a very good autumn for Eastern Towhees - on the Saturday 22 October walk we had at least a dozen in the Ramble, if not 15. Finally, days of 10-15 warbler species per bird walk are behind us (14 warbler species found on the Friday walk by Deborah and company on 21 October). If you check eBird records by each day for Central Park (and we do, religiously) our bird walks consistently record the most warbler species (and individuals) compared to any single list - or all the lists combined for the day. (We use sound, and the warblers come to us.) Again, we check the ebird lists each day, know the facts, and know what is in the park, and all of Manhattan...Sound Works, and works well!


Deborah's List of Birds for Friday, 21 October: Click Here

Deborah's List of Birds for Saturday, 22 October: Click Here

Deborah's List of Birds for Sunday, 23 October: Click Here

Deborah's List of Birds for Monday, 24 October: RAIN: No Bird Walk!


White Crowned Sparrow (juvenile) Central Park 23 October 2022 Deborah Allen

(below) Tufted Titmouse Central Park 8 December 2008

HISTORICAL NOTEs


Lophophanes bicolor. Tufted Titmouse [1874]. 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

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Parus bicolor. [1898]. 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 [Brooklyn] 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.

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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.

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TUFTED TITMOUSE (Baeolophus bicolor) - 1923


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 [1843] 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).


Ludlow Griscom

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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).

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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).

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The 1978 irruption of Tufted Titmice in NYC and the Northeast

An apparently unprecedented movement by a supposedly non-incursive species


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.

Red-breasted Nuthatch Central Park 16 October 2022 Deborah Allen

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. 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.


Great Blue Heron (juvenile) Central Park 22 October 2022 Deborah Allen


Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD

Follow our Bird Sightings on Twitter: @DAllenNYC and/or @BirdingBobNYC

Eastern Wood Pewee in the Bronx at Ferry Point Park 11 October 2022 Deborah Allen

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