A tufted titmouse came to visit our backyard last week.
The name descends from two ancient Anglo-Saxon root words — “tit,” from a word meaning something small. And “mouse,” from a word applied to any small bird, as well as that little rodent.
I feel fortunate that when I fill my bird feeder, I occasionally get visits from tufted titmice (yes, that is the plural).
Here is a nice description of a tufted titmouse on the Cornell All About Birds site:
A little gray bird with an echoing voice, the Tufted Titmouse is common in eastern deciduous forests and a frequent visitor to feeders. The large black eyes, small, round bill, and brushy crest gives these birds a quiet but eager expression that matches the way they flit through canopies, hang from twig-ends, and drop in to bird feeders. When a titmouse finds a large seed, you’ll see it carry the prize to a perch and crack it with sharp whacks of its stout bill.
There are quite a few historical descriptions of the tufted titmouse on this Life Histories of Familiar North American Birds article from 1947, but my favorite note is at the end: “On the feeding shelf the tit seems to be the dominant character; only the blue jay refuses to make way for him. ”
Getting back to the Tufted Titmouse name, I found a bit more on this 10,000 Birds What is a Titmouse article: “A bird in the genus Baeolophus is neither a mouse nor…the other thing. The word titmouse descends from the Old English terms, tit (any small animal or object) and mase (small bird), essentially meaning one small, small bird.”
Then that article starts to get a bit funny: “Though there is nothing inherently prurient about this critter’s cognomen, it’s within the realm of possibility that even the mere utterance of it inspires twittering and naughty feelings in some individuals, and is thus best avoided. It is worth pointing out that titmice belong to the family Paridae, an expansive international clan made up primarily of what we call “chickadees” in the states but are known as “tits” in the Old World. What do you expect of those decadent, debauched Europeans?”
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