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Acrobatic titmouse a hiking companion

The Juniper Titmouse is an active and chatty bird. Photo courtesy of Mary Schmauss

The juniper titmouse is a small gray bird about 6 inches long with dark eyes and slight crest of feathers on the head. This titmouse lives exclusively in arid, oak, pinyon and juniper habitat in much of New Mexico and throughout the Southwest. Because they prefer brushy, arid habitat, they are most commonly seen in rural areas or on the outskirts of urban settings. They can be seen at elevations ranging from 2,200 to 8,000 feet.

Like other titmice, the juniper titmouse is an active and chatty bird. They are quite acrobatic as they move from branch to branch hanging upside down and sideways looking for food. Their food of choice is pinyon seeds, but they will also eat insects such as spiders and beetles. They have extremely strong feet that enable them to forage for food by clinging to very small twigs while they reach out to quickly grab a seed or insect.

The titmouse has a narrow but sturdy beak not designed for cracking shells, so like other small-beaked birds they pry open seeds with their beaks by pounding the seeds against tree branches. They will also hold the seeds with their feet and hammer them with their beaks until they crack. juniper tit mouse will visit backyard bird feeders. They prefer black-oil sunflower seeds and suet.

The juniper titmouse is a year-round resident. During spring and summer nesting season, the male and female will pair to raise young. The titmouse is a cavity nester, meaning it looks for existing cavities in trees to build a nest. The birds will also use man-made nest boxes. The female selects the nest site and builds the nest, generally about 3 to 12 feet aboveground. When incubating the eggs, the female wards off predators by giving a hissing sound similar to a snake. Both the male and female protect their nesting territory from predators by raising their crest feathers and giving a loud, harsh call.

The oldest juniper titmouse recorded is 4 years, 2 months. It was banded, released and recaptured in New Mexico. The juniper titmouse has a stable population of about 180,000. The biggest threat to the juniper titmouse is conversion of their juniper woodlands habitat to pasture.

When out hiking in the foothills of Albuquerque or other juniper woodland habitat throughout New Mexico, be sure to watch for this active little titmouse as it darts from branch to branch.

Mary Schmauss is the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Albuquerque. A lifelong birder and author of For the Birds: A Month-by-Month Guide to Attracting Birds to your Backyard.