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Tit Family

species birds tits america

The tit family, Paridae, consists of 46 species of small birds, variously known as tits, titmice, and chickadees. These are all song birds, in the order Passeriformes. All are rather small birds, ranging in body length from about 4–8 in (11–20 cm), and mostly occurring in forests, shrubby woodlands, and in urban and suburban habitats. This family of birds is widespread, and its representatives are found in North America, Africa, and Eurasia.

Tits are all active feeders, constantly searching foliage and gleaning bark and branches for insects, spiders, and other arthropods. These birds are highly acrobatic when feeding, often hanging upside down from small twigs to gain access to their prey. During winter, when arthropods are scarce, these birds will eat seeds, and they may be among the most common species at bird feeders.

Tits actively defend territories, proclaiming their ownership by a series of loud whistles and songs. Tits nest in cavities in trees, either naturally occurring or a hole excavated by the tits in soft, rotted wood. Sometimes, tits will utilize a cavity that has previously been excavated and used by smaller species of woodpeckers, and some species of tits will use nest boxes. The clutch size is large, with sometimes more than ten eggs laid at one time. Once the young are fledged, the family of tits stays together during autumn and winter, and often joins with other families to form large foraging flocks, sometimes mixed with other species of similar sized birds.

There are seven species of chickadees in North America. These are rather tame and familiar birds, with a dark cap, and a bib on the throat, a whitish breast, and a brownish or gray back. The most widespread species is the black-capped chickadee (Parus atricapillus), occurring throughout the southern boreal and northern temperate forests. The territorial song of this species is a loudly whistled teea-deee, but more familiar to most people is the alarm call, chicka-dee-dee-dee, given when potentially dangerous intruders are near. The Carolina chickadee (P. carolinensis) occurs in southeastern North America. The boreal chickadee (P. hudsonicus) is common in northern coniferous forests. The mountain chickadee (P. gambeli) occurs in montane coniferous forests of western North America. The chestnut-backed chickadee (P. rufescens) is abundant in forests of the Pacific coast.

There are four species of titmice in North America. These birds have small crests on the top of their head, and are slightly larger than chickadees, with which they often flock during the non-breeding season. The most widespread species is the tufted titmouse (P. bicolor) of southeastern North America. The most common species in the southwest is the plain titmouse (P. inornatus).

Tits, titmice, and chickadees are all familiar and friendly birds, and many species can be successfully attracted to the vicinity of homes using a well-maintained feeder. Some species will quickly learn to feed directly at a steadily held hand, lured by crushed peanuts or sunflower seeds.

Bill Freedman

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