Swarming berry feast for Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse (Cornell University)

I wrote my dissertation in Fort Worth, Texas, from a second-floor office, looking out upon an enclosed patio. Adjacent to the large window that framed my view were White Fringetrees that bore dark blue berries.  I composed intently and turned frequently to the window, yearning to be in high country, viewing pinon, spruce and ponderosa, not the Fringetree in a hot Texas summer.

One afternoon as I churned out sentences I saw birds fly onto and into the White Fringetrees.  Not just a few, but hundreds of birds landed on tree branches, weighing them down, almost to a point of snapping the branches from the tree trunk.  I turned away from writing and gazed upon Tufted Titmice engorging fringetree berries (1).  The animated flock, chirping and calling loudly, ate for fifteen or twenty seconds and then abruptly flew away, out of sight, in a orchestrated arc of motion.

I was stunned at clasping claws, fluttering wings, pecking mouths and swarming birds within ten feet of my desk.  No sooner than I began to think about their behavior the titmice returned, engorging and hanging upside down, flying crazily away, drunk upon the nectar, happily filled.

They stripped the tree of berries after two more returns to the table and I never saw them again that summer.  I waited for a few to return in the remaining days, but they never flew back.

I revere that image.  I thought then, as I do now, that the berry feast of swarming titmice lifted my mood and helped propel me to finish my dissertation, for at my desk I saw nature churning, grasping, eating and flying.  High country, after all, in Texas.

______________________________

Notes:

1.  Please read my reply to Bill’s comment in this post about my confidence in typing a Tufted Titmouse.  I have a measure of doubt about the typing.  I wrote to Bill:

I’m not one-hundred percent confident it was a tufted titmouse. At the time, I had never seen any bird like it: tufted, grayish, small, energetic. Fort Worth is 65 miles from where I live now, 120 miles from where I was born and reared. I would say I am seventy-five percent confident about the typing. I’m not by any means a birder and I was hesitant in presenting this post. I remember at the time that I got my Peterson out a few days after the event. My first definition was some sort of junco, passing through like you say, but a junco was too large. With a little bit more definition, photographs and migrating patterns into Texas (no farther than Texas, I read), I hesitantly put it as a tufted titmouse. No one was with me at the time of the sighting to corroborate….If you read my reply to your comment, how do you go about your typing of birds up there? Today, I use the Peterson and Cornell University website. My Peterson is falling apart from use in the field and carrying around for, say, forty years?…Thanks, Bill, for commenting.  [Bill writes a nature blog and lives in New England.  His blog is Wildramblings.]

The White Fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chionanthus_virginicus.  See also Rutgers Landscape and Nursery Services, New Jersey.

Tufted Titmouse, Identification, All About Birds – Cornell Lab of Ornithology (Baeolophus bicolor).

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9 Comments

Filed under Birds, Recollections 1990-

9 responses to “Swarming berry feast for Tufted Titmouse

  1. That is one of my favourite American birds.

  2. I was really surprised to learn that the tufted titmouse is found in your region. It is pretty common in these parts and I always assumed that it was more of a northern bird. Perhaps it was migrating when you saw it feast on those berries.

    Nice memory in any case. Good that you had some healthy distractions while doing all that writing.

    • I’m not one-hundred percent confident it was a tufted titmouse. At the time, I had never seen any bird like it: tufted, grayish, small, energetic. Fort Worth is 65 miles from where I live now, 120 miles from where I was born and reared. I would say I am seventy-five percent confident about the typing. I’m not by any means a birder and I was hesitant in presenting this post. I remember at the time that I got my Peterson out a few days after the event. My first definition was some sort of junco, passing through like you say, but a junco was too large. With a little bit more definition, photographs and migrating patterns into Texas (no farther than Texas, I read), I hesitantly put it as a tufted titmouse. No one was with me at the time of the sighting to corroborate.

      If you read my reply to your comment, how do you go about your typing of birds up there? Today, I use the Peterson and Cornell University website. My Peterson is falling apart from use in the field and carrying around for, say, forty years?

      Thanks, Bill, for commenting.

      • I use the Peterson guide as well. I know many of the local birds but have to look up some of the warblers that are often heard and seldom seen. I also use the Cornell site, it is particularly grand for the northeast. What you photographed is without a doubt a tufted titmouse. Saw one today in 4 degrees belos zero weather.

  3. Semira Mancill, DVM, DACT

    Mr. Matthews,
    I have changed my email address, can you add me (again) to your blog list? I so enjoy reading your posts!
    good talking with you today, Semira

  4. Kittie Howard

    I love birds but am not a birder. What really interests me is that the birds appeared at just the right moment. This is a common theme in Eastern European literature. I honestly didn’t think much of this until our cat, Chester, died in Macedonia. We held a small service, under a tree, near the top of a vine-covered hill. It was very nice. At the end of the little memorial service, a flock of white birds, about 200 feet away, took flight. The Macedonians had never seen this type of bird in their country before — or later, as I inquired. But the birds’ flight brought a calming reaction that I still feel whenever I see a white bird.

    I understand how you could complete your dissertation sooner.

  5. doogal

    Can anyone tell me does the tree survive. We have been observing this beauty for the last two weeks every day but our trees are looking like they have been ravaged. Can someone tell me what happens to the tree after these birds tear it and all the berries off? It’s not so beautiful to me I want the trees.

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