Look, Ma, a Titmouse!

11 September 2021 0 By Bambam
Juniper titmouse (Baeolophus ridgwayi) Cornell Univ.

The Juniper Titmouse is sort of the ultimate Little Gray Bird (LGB), although I suppose that Dark-Eyed Juncos would contest that ranking. (And here I go capitalizing bird names like some kind of birding writer, which I am not.)

M. and I have been loyal citizen-scientists for Cornell University’s Project Feeder Watch since shortly after we moved up here, first sending in paper forms and now doing it online.

The computer generates a group of likely southern Colorado birds, and of course you can add something that is not on the list.

They don’t really migrate. We live in the pale purple area—
“scarce,” whereas the dark area is simply “year-round.”

Every year, grouped with the Mountain Chickadee and the Black-Capped Chickadee is the Juniper Titmouse. What’s that?

Until on March 12 when I looked by the lower sunflower-seed feeder, at the edge of a patch of Gambel oak, juniper, and piñon pine, and there was this triangle-headed LGB. A titmouse, clearly! And it has shown up occasionally since then.

A titmouse “cool fact”: 

Like many other members of the chickadee family Juniper Titmice don’t migrate and instead stick out harsh winters on their breeding grounds. One of the ways they survive the cold, virtually insect-free season is by storing seeds in crevices of trees or other places to eat later.

But the name! While “mouse,” the small rodent, comes from the Proto-Indo-European *mus,” meaning mouse, the small rodent, the “mouse” in titmouse has another ancient root, from “Proto-Germanic *maison (source also of Dutch mees, German meise), from adj. *maisa- “little, tiny.”

 As for “tit,” the Online Etymological Dictionary says this:

1540s, a word used for any small animal or object (as in compound forms such as titmouse, tomtit, etc.); also used of small horses. Similar words in related senses are found in Scandinavian (Icelandic tittr, Norwegian tita “a little bird”), but the connection and origin are obscure; perhaps, as OED suggests, the word is merely suggestive of something small. Used figuratively of persons after 1734, but earlier for “a girl or young woman” (1590s), often in deprecatory sense of “a hussy, minx.”

The British would call all the chickadees “tits” as a generic term. North Americans generally don’t.

If you run into anyone named Titmouse (it happens), be sure to say it “TIT-mus.”

Since I don’t live on the Pacific coast, I never see boobies.