Don't you just love seeing Tufted Titmice at your feeders? I know I do, with their big dark eyes, chubby little bodies, and smart crest. They are common breeders in our area and take easily to nest boxes you can provide, even in your suburban yards.
But early bird enthusiasts in upstate New York didn't get to enjoy the peter-peter-peter call of the Tufted Titmouse as we do. That's right. Less than 100 years ago, the titmouse did not breed in our area or in most of New York state.
Here's how the distribution of the Tufted Titmouse was described by Elon Howard Eaton in Birds of New York back in 1914.
"In New York it is confined to the warmer portion of the Carolinian district as a breeding species. It has been reported at Williams Bridge...Riverdale...Staten Island...near Brooklyn...at Sheepshead bay...and at Bellport....Chapman's record of its breeding on Staten Island...is the only definite record of its nesting within the State which has come to my attention."
According to The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State, the tuftie expanded into much of New York in the last half of the 20th century. By the time the first Atlas was conducted (1980-1985), the titmouse "was well established through the entire Hudson Valley, the New York City area, and the Coastal Lowlands...common through the central Appalachian Plateau, the Finger Lakes region, and northward to the central Lake Ontario shore." Expansion was also noted along Lake Champlain but remained absent in the higher elevations of the Adirondacks.
By the second atlas period (2000-2005), their range had expanded and density thickened even more, though they still remain rare in the Adirondacks.
The atlas provides this explanation for the expansion: "The explanations offered for the northward extension include a general warming climate, the maturation of forest on abandoned farmlands, and an increase in winter bird feeding."
What a birdfeeding success story the Tufted Titmouse can tell!
Citation: New York State Breeding Bird Atlas 2000. 2000 - 2005. Release 1.0. Albany (New York): New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. [updated 2007 Jun 11; cited 2009 Sep 15].