Juniper Titmouse (JUTI)

Juniper Titmouse was identified as a separate species in 1997 when Plain Titmouse was split into Juniper Titmouse and Oak Titmouse (located primarily in California).  Based on Breeding Bird Survey estimates, Colorado has 5% of the U.S. JUTI population.  (More than 90% of the JUTIs are found in only 4 states:  Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Nevada.)  In Colorado, JUTIs are pinyon/juniper obligates, meaning they live only in areas with pinyon pine and juniper–more so than almost any other species breeding in CO.  In Colorado’s first Breeding Bird Atlas, 96% of blocks that had breeding JUTIs had pinyon/juniper habitat.  The Sialis Web site has some information about the natural history of these sprites.

In our area, JUTIs are in the 1st wave of nesters, along with Mountain Chickadees and White-breasted Nuthatches.  As noted on the Nest box monitoring page, the JUTIs use the reglar bluebird-sized boxes every year.  Nest-building this year began in mid-April; eggs were laid in late April and early May; eggs hatched, mid- to late May; and fledging, early to mid-June.  JUTIs nest on our property every year, although last year I don’t believe any of 3 nesting attempts was successful.  This year was quite a change from that dismal record.  Two pairs of JUTI fledged 3 and 4 young this summer.  And then, I’m relatively certain (as sure as one can be without actually banding the birds or being able to identify individuals some other way) that 1 of these pairs moved about 45′ to a different nest box in early June, refurbished an incomplete Mountain Bluebird nest, and raised another brood of 3.  Birds of North America Online states that JUTI are believed to be single-brooded, although some behavioral evidence, such as feeding young in July or carrying nesting material in June, suggests that they might on occasion raise a 2nd brood.  However, at least in CO, we may be among the 1st to have documented a successful 2nd brood by these lively little sprites.  I’ve written this up as a brief note for the next issue of Colorado Birds (the Colorado Field Ornithologists’ quarterly journal) and it’s been accepted for publication.

The photos here are a mix-and-match from all 3 nest boxes.

JUTI nest with dog hair

JUTI nest with dog hair

JUTIs put a lot—-A LOT!!!—-of animal fur in their nests, perhaps to ward off the cold of the early spring season.  In fact, the confirmation of the 1st JUTI nest this season can be credited to animal fur.  Starting in early March, we cram the hair we get from brushing our dogs into an old suet feeder, posting it on a tree by our feeders for nest construction.  One day at lunch, we got a great view of a JUTI at this “hair cafe,” stuffing her beak with cattle dog undercoat.  (Since females do all of the nest-building, I think we can safely assume it was a female.)  Just before taking off, she turned toward us—-the hair completely obliterated her beak.  She flew off to the north, where only 3 nest boxes were located.  Later that day, I found the animal hair in this nest and made the connection.  Here’s a photo of that nest that day.  (The white hair is from our neighbor’s German Shepherd, who also donated to the cause; the reddish hair toward the back is from Coda, our red merle cattle dog mix.)

Here’s a side shot of that nest.

JUTI nest, side view

JUTI nest, side view

JUTI nest with eggs

JUTI nest with eggs

JUTI eggs are small, white, and plain.  This year, the nests had 5 or 6 eggs.  They can be difficult to photograph because the female often pulls a cover of animal fur over the eggs when she’s off the nest.  In addition, the nests tend to be quite deep, so Zell used a hand mirror for a better view.  Here is a photo of a nest with 5 eggs; the one below it is a side shot of the same nest—-you can see only 1 of the eggs above the sea of fur.

JUTI hatchlings, <1 day old

JUTI hatchlings, <1 day old

These kids had probably hatched less than 24 hours earlier.  (You can see 1 unhatched egg as well.)   One side note–this box is the 2nd brood of the JUTI.  You can see how much less hair she put in this nest—-just enough to line the nest cup—-compared with the early season nests above.  This difference probably wasn’t because of a lack of animal fur at the time—-the Ash-throated Flycatchers, which were building their nests at the same time as the 2nd brood, were finding plenty of hair for their nests.  Perhaps it was in response to the generally warmer temperatures of June compared with April.

JUTI nestlings, ~3 days old

JUTI nestlings, ~3 days old

These guys are perhaps 3 days old.  When we opened the box to take the photo, both parents flew out of the box and chattered at us from a couple of trees away.  We seemed to have interrupted feeding time:  You can see an insect in the mouth of the nestling in the lower right.  (You may need to get the larger format to see that clearly; the thumbnail photo is rather dark.  Click on the thumbnail; once it has downloaded, if it doesn’t fill the screen completely, move your cursor to the lower right corner.  A square icon should emerge; click on that and the picture will enlarge a bit more.)

In the next photo, the nestlings are 8 days old, with feathers starting to come in.  The photo below that is of nestlings at about 10 days old—-what difference 2 days makes once those feathers start emerging.

JUTI nestlings, ~8 days old

JUTI nestlings, ~8 days old

JUTI nestlings, ~10 days old

JUTI nestlings, ~10 days old

JUTI nestlings, ~13 days old

JUTI nestlings, ~13 days old

And here are some at about 13 days old–about one week before fledging.  I saw these guys one week later, although I didn’t have the camera with me.  As I approached, an adult was flying around the box, chattering and popping its head into the box  several times without entering.  A glance through the binos told me that it had a rather large insect in its mouth.  I assumed it was trying to coax the kids to leave the box.  I moved on to check other boxes in the area, coming back to this box a bit later.  Since I didn’t hear the adult at that time, I risked opening the box.  (Probably not a wise idea, since the kids were so close to fledging.  But given the parent’s actions, I figured the possibility of an “premature” fledging had passed.  Indeed, the adults might have been relieved if the kids had hopped out.)  Voila–3 gorgeous, fully feathered soon-to-be-fledglings with their heads buried in the nest.  Almost as if they simply weren’t interested in listening to one more creature try to convince them to get the heck out of the box.   I checked the next day and the box was happily empty.  Since this was the 2nd brood of this pair, I imagine those adults were more than done with nest boxes for this year.

And, as a comparison of what a difference 2 days can again make, these fellows are really starting to look like adults at about 15 days old.

JUTI nestlings, ~15 days old

JUTI nestlings, ~15 days old

JUTI adult, incubating eggs from 2nd brood

JUTI adult, incubating eggs from 2nd brood

In closing, here’s a photo of the female incubating the 2nd brood.  Again, if you look in the large format, you may be able to see a fine spray of feathers on her back—-something I’d never seen in a JUTI before.  (Of course, one rarely gets such an up-close-and-personal—-and static—-look at a JUTI in the wild.)  When I first discovered the eggs, i figured it was a Violet-green Swallow nest since it was so late in the season.  When Zell opened the box to take a photo, he said “There’s a baby in there.”  Knowing that the eggs had been laid in the past week, I replied, “No way.”  But I couldn’t see in well enough to determine what might be there, so he snapped some photos and we raced back to the house to upload them.  Lo and behold—-the beginnings of the unusual 2nd JUTI brood.

© 2008 Tina Mitchell

One Response to Juniper Titmouse (JUTI)

  1. Extenze says:

    I usually don’t post in Blogs but your blog forced me to, amazing work.. beautiful …

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