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WHAT COMES TO MIND WHEN YOU HEAR SOMEONE YELL, “GREAT TITS!”?

By Nic.Korte

Having searched for birds in Europe, my second thought, at least, is that my birding partner has just spied a pair of common European songbirds. My European field guide says great tits are a “frequent visitor to bird tables and seed-dispensers…at times, plain audacious, may take seed from an outstretched hand.” Now we are talking! “Audacious, great tits!”

Sure, I thought up this slightly salacious title to grab your interest, but there are some important points.

Many bird names have little to do with describing the bird. Second, many of our birds’ names have an Old-World origin. One of the best examples is the American Robin. Most of us can quickly picture a robin in our mind, but go to Europe and the picture is different. The European Robin is small and brownish with a rusty-red bib. It isn't even in the same family as the American Robin.  Unfortunately, our robin reminded some early settlers of the European Robin and the misnomer soon followed. Our robin is in a family known as thrushes. A tropical close-cousin that sneaks into South Texas is called a clay-colored thrush—which is the same size and shape as our robin and is the color of a brown clay. I prefer that sort of name because it tells me a lot about the bird, in this case, color and family.

Ok, that was boring. Let’s get back to tits. My bird book of Europe lists twelve kinds including blue ones. Picture those!

One I’ve missed is the Eurasian Penduline Tit. I need to get back over there and search for that one. But, the burning question remains. Do we have tits in the US? Not exactly, although we have some closely related birds with similar names. A favorite of many wildlife watchers is the Common Bushtit.

Although I took this picture in chaparral in California, these nondescript little guys are often encountered in noisy flocks in the Grand Valley in the winter and in the PJs and aspens—often near streams—throughout the year. They often permit a very close approach as they call back and forth. This bird is actually quite common but is often overlooked because it has so few field marks. If you encounter a flock of squeaking LGBs (little gray birds) when you are out walking the river trail, it is probably these guys. Take some time with them. They often permit a very close approach.

A stranger name is the titmouse. There are five North American species and, yes, the plural is titmice. I can’t imagine what a non-birder would conjure up in their minds if they saw that word out-of-context. What the heck are titmice? Mice that live in… Never mind!

Our local representative is the Juniper Titmouse. This bird is also mostly gray, but local photographer Jackson Trappett’s photo shows it has a handsome crest. Also, as the name suggests, it is an inhabitant of our pinyon-juniper (P-J) forests.



During the summer, juniper titmice eat mostly insects, but they eat a lot of seeds in the winter. If you live near the Colorado National Monument, you may find them at your bird feeder. Common bushtits and juniper titmice are well-adapted to toughing out our cold winters and hot summers.  Indeed, we always find a few dozen on our Christmas counts—both in the Grand Valley and on the slopes of Grand Mesa. So, when you are out taking a walk and you see some little gray birds, don’t just dismiss them as LBGs. Enjoy a close look at these adaptable and distinctive year-around residents of the Grand Valley.

To keep up with the activities (such as raptor-viewing field trips February 15/16 and 22/23) of Grand Valley Audubon Society, check out our webpage at www.audubongv.webs.com and “like” us on Facebook. Please send any questions to audubongv@gmail.com. Don't forget the GVAS monthly program: 7PM 3rd Monday of the month, at 1st Presbyterian Church, corner of Cortland and 27 1/2 road. 
 

COMMENTS

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I love these little guys except when 25 of them get in the mist net at the same time. When you take them out they just fly back in to be with their flock. Great job Nic keep up the good work. Bluebirdbob




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