Titmouse Tales – From Nestlings to Fledglings

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12 Day Old Tufted Titmouse Chicks
The Tufted Titmouse Chicks at 12 Days Old. Image by Nest Box Live.

For the past two weeks, all eyes have been on our Tufted Titmouse nest in Florida. In our last update on this nest, the chicks were just 5 days old, blind and almost completely hairless. What a difference a couple of weeks make. Our chicks have grown before our eyes and we’ve witnessed the most amazing transformation, from hatchlings to fledglings!

The First 10 Days of a Titmouse Chick’s Life

Let’s take it back to the start and refresh our minds about this spectacular nest. In early March, a Tufted Titmouse pair settled into one of our Nest Box Live boxes in Florida. This was an exciting moment as not only was this our first nesting bird of the season, but also the first time we’ve had Tufted Titmice in one of our boxes.

Following a few days of nest building, the female Titmouse laid 6 speckled eggs. After 14 days of incubation, 5 of the eggs hatched and we began to follow the lives of the tiny, newly-hatched chicks. Mostly, a routine of sleeping, eating and pooping. 

Since then, our Titmouse parents have been busy at work. They feed their chicks as much as possible and the juveniles get bigger and bigger every day. Around the 8th day after hatching, Titmouse chicks are no longer blind. It was during this time that we noticed our chicks becoming more energetic and demanding of food. 

Tufted Titmouse Chicks at 9 Days Old
The Tufted Titmouse Chicks Were Well-Feathered by Day 9. Image by Nest Box Live.

By day 10, the chicks had lost their salmon-pink ‘bobble-head’ appearance. They were now fully covered in dark feathers.

At this point, the Titmouse mum stopped brooding her chicks, as with their newly-formed feathers, they could regulate their own body heat. 

The Unfortunate Outcome of the 5th Chick

On the second week of the hatchlings’ lives, we noticed that one of the chicks was less developed than the others, both in size and feathers. We think that due to being smaller, this chick was fed less. As a result, it was also more vulnerable to being trampled by its energetic siblings. 

This chick was too weak and on the 10th day after hatching, it unfortunately died. Despite being difficult for viewers to witness, this is a common occurrence in nesting chicks. It also serves an advantage for the other chicks who now can receive more food, grow stronger and have an increased likelihood of surviving fledging.

The Fledging of the Tufted Titmouse Chicks

Titmouse Chick Prepares Itself for Fledging
A Titmouse Chick Takes a Look Outside the Nest Box Before Fledging. Image by Nest Box Live.

Tufted Titmouse chicks normally leave the nest 15 to 18 days after hatching. As the first egg hatched on the 30th of March, we were expecting the chicks to begin fledging by the 15th of April. Sure enough, in the evening of this day, we watched as the first chick tested the waters and hopped up to the hole in the nest box. After the first glance of the outside world, the chick bravely jumped out. 

The three chicks that remained decided that nest box life was actually pretty comfortable. Two stayed for another 3 days and the last one didn’t take the leap until the 19th of April. We were surprised to see them wait so long to fledge and wondered how chicks decide it’s the right time to leave? 

To Fledge or Not To Fledge

It would seem like the best strategy of survival for a chick would be to stay in the nest being fed by its parents for as long as possible. Who could turn down breakfast (and lunch and dinner) in bed?

But fledging the nest at the right time is actually vital to survival. There’s a few reasons why: 

  1. The nest has been the home of the Tufted Titmouse chicks for over 2 weeks and is undoubtedly starting to smell. This can easily attract unwanted predators to the nest and puts late fledglings at risk.
  2. The parents need to visit the nest frequently to keep the growing chicks well-fed. This movement could be noticed by intelligent predators and again leave the nest vulnerable to predation. 
  3. You need to learn how to make it on your own! The chicks need to learn how to become a successful adult bird and they can’t do that within the confines of a nest. 

Life Off The Nest

Tufted Titmouse Fledgling
A Tufted Titmouse Fledgling. Image by Ilze Long via Flickr.

Although the 4 Tufted Titmouse chicks have now fledged and successfully left the nest, they will still be under the care of their two devoted parents. For the next few weeks, mum and dad will keep feeding them while the chicks try to stay hidden from predators. This will also be a time for them to learn some important skills from their parents: how to find food, how to sing and how to form social relationships. 

Tufted Titmice can raise 2 broods in one breeding season. The young of the first nest also often help the parents with the second brood. We are keeping our eyes peeled to see if our Titmouse family decide to return to their nest box again this year.

We hope that you have enjoyed following the journey of these Tufted Titmice. If you want to follow along with any of our other nests, be sure to check out our Facebook and Youtube page.

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