Monday, April 2, 2012

Texas Titmice

Three out of five possible North American titmice occur annually in Texas. Black-crested Titmice, Tufted Titmice, and Juniper Titmice, respectively.

This post is intended to kick up a bit of discussion on Texas titmice, not to be an authoritative work by any means, but hopefully will shed some light on a bit of local confusion.

Texas does not have Oak Titmice. Here is a range map.
Texas also does not have Bridled Titmice. Here is a range map.
Both of the above have not been recorded in Texas at all.
Only Black-crested, Tufted, and Juniper have been recorded in the state.
The latter is remarkably isolated within the state and the former two hybridize all over their overlap zone. A frustrating topic, to be sure!

So to discuss the ranges of Baeolophus atricristatus (Black-crested), Baeolophus bicolor (Tufted), and Baeolophus ridgwayi (Juniper), let's start with the image below.

The above is a beautiful comparison of North American titmice, their faces and their ranges (though Black-crested does range a bit more NW than they show, making it into the Davis Mountains), via Cornell's Project Feeder Watch page on name changes.

The Guadalupe Mountains of far West Texas does harbor a population of Juniper Titmice (where they are also listed as an irruptive species), but their range in Texas stops there. Period. The rest of Texas is free of Juniper Titmice. Black-crested Titmice do not tend to overlap with Juniper at all, leaving little room for speculation of hybridization. New Mexico birders, unfortunately, must keep dreaming.

This leaves Black-crested Titmice ranging from the mountains in West Texas (but not the Guadalupes - this is why we distrust eBird maps) well into central and South Texas. Frustratingly, there is a large hybrid zone in central Texas along the swath of Tufted Titmouse range. The latter is highly unlikely to end up in West Texas, so they are not our primary focus.

Juniper Titmouse is the contested creature. Thankfully, eBird now has filters for Juniper Titmice in the Trans-Pecos region (but not the Panhandle?), but there are about a dozen reports from Brewster County. None on eBird, interestingly enough, from the Davis Mountains or Jeff Davis county - a gap in what would otherwise bridge the sightings. The reports from Brewster Co., with one exception ("Marathon"), are from Big Bend National Park and mostly in the Chisos. Aside from young Black-crested Titmice in summer that could look a bit confusing, winter reports were perhaps birds that were heard only and not seen? Or enthusiastic individuals who thought the habitat not fit for Black-crested jumped to conclusions? This is all speculation, but apparently so are the reports... and this is a nice summary of why citizen science is what it is. Thankfully the regional editors have changed the Juniper Titmouse status on eBird and any sightings outside of the Guadalupe Mountains will be 'flagged' for review. But until the filters are ironed out, folks hoping to find Juniper Titmice may see what appears to be an isolated year-round population in the Chisos Mountains (via the eBird map) and jump to some interesting conclusions.

From the Texas Bird Breeding Atlas Juniper Titmouse page:
DISTRIBUTION. During the 1987-1992 TBBA field work atlasers found 3 possible and 2 probable breeding records near the Guadalupe Mountains of Trans-Pecos Texas. Nesting was first discovered here in 1973, providing the first breeding record for this state. Reports of this species from other parts of west Texas are probably actually young Black-crested Titmice (B. atricristatus) which acquires its fully black crest as late as its second year after hatching, progressing through gray to dull brown tipped with gray (Oberholser 1974). The species has been reported from the Davis Mountains but breeding has not been documented there (Lockwood and Freeman 2004).

Folks have posted really lovely summaries of why presence/absence 'counting' is slightly ridiculous* and Juniper Titmice are also a good example of that. While we are certainly guilty of listing "X" for a species, even ONE Juniper Titmouse anywhere outside of the Guadalupe Mts is pretty phenomenal. So eBird reports from the park that list "X" or "2" should be scrutinized. Notes, photos and extensive documentation would be appropriate. Ideally, any of the reports would have had some sort of note - heard only, photo'd, or otherwise.

* Fantastic references for counting, via eBird:
Bird Counting 101
Bird Counting 201

Someday we'll have 'compact counting' tips posted as well, but that's more fodder for future posts!


  1. Juniper Titmouse is an irruptive species in the Panhandle and South Plains with records from Nov-Apr. Mostly from Bailey Co. north to Dallam Co. Funny thing is that these are the expected titmice in those counties.

    The BCTI/TUTI breakdown is still poorly understood within the state. The hybridization line is well defined in some places, but not others. Many people don't know how to separate a hybrid from a pure bird. Another interesting factoid is that there are currently no confirmed records (at least none that I can currently find) of TUTI nesting in the panhandle, nor have I seen any evidence of hybridization. However, pure TUTI breeds within 5 miles of the Texas border in western Oklahoma along the various forks of the Red. Yet, BCTI breeds just on the other side in Wheeler Co.

    This doesn't even go in to the Chickadee conundrum in the western half of the state. Which reminds me... see closing remarks.

    eBird is especially unreliable in areas that are rarely birded or do not have a dedicated reviewer/editor. If you look at places in the east and west, the amount of suspicious reports goes down drastically. I believe that most lists with x are thrown out by researchers analyzing eBird output.

    I am currently working on getting the Brewster Co. list finished and in place to try to limit bad reports. Eventually, someone will invalidate all of those JUTI and possibly many other sightings from the area as well. It seems like there are way too many MOCH sightings and could possibly be HO BCTI.

  2. Cameron, careful with responses like this - you may end up with a guest post on the blog to discuss Panhandle titmice! It's a bit out of our range and my time in Abilene certainly didn't count, as I rarely strayed north of Lubbock. So let me know when you'd like to fill in that gap and we'll provide all the blog space you need!

    Thanks for the insight, and happy trails!

  3. I'm in southwest Dallas Co., Tx, CrossTimbers. (My binoculars went wonky on me and just got in a new pair a couple of days ago. - When I can snatch a few minutes, here and there, I sit about 15 feet, inside, from my three feeders and suet cage.) That said, I have a small bird coming in, occasionally (started noticing March 2016), that is very similar in shape to a Tufted Titmouse, but smaller, more "flittery" and stays at feeder even less time than Tufted, more buff color that the my grey, easily distinguished Tufted, and, with naked eye, appears to have no distinguishing peach/rust under the wing, nor any other obvious colors, bars, stripes, patches etc; just solid buff all over (to naked eye). It definitely is smaller/finer than the Tufted. I can't, for the life of me, identify this bird as of yet. Any suggestions to what this bird could be, identifying characteristics, etc? Thanks

    1. Check into Ruby-crowned Kinglet; they're a little bundle of energy, very buffy and nondescript!

  4. Thanks for suggestion. I highly doubt it is that. The Rc Kinglet is much rounder (chubbier) than the bird I have observed. Also there were no distinguishing marks or bars that I could see. Also, the little bird I observed did keep its crown upright and there was no color differentiation from body to crown. Thanks