Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Bird of the Day: A California Original, the Oak Titmouse

Diminutive and drab, it's not very Californian from an anthropomorphic point of view, but there are few birds that are as unique to the state as this little Oak Titmouse (Baeolophus inornatus). They range a little into southern Oregon and a bit into the northernmost part of Baja California, but mainly they populate the vast oak woodlands that characterize so much of California: the Peninsular Ranges outside of San Diego, the Coast Ranges, the Sierra Nevada foothills, and a portion of the Great Valley. A corner of the "mini-wilderness" on the west campus is composed of a dozen or so huge oak trees, and I've not spent enough time looking up. These pictures represent only the second time I've seen the species, but I expect to see a few more now that I know where to seek them out. I saw this one during a lunchtime walk through the oaks in our campus "mini-wilderness".
The fate of the Oak Titmouse is closely tied to California's oak forests, which have been under a great deal of pressure from urbanization, disease, drought and wildfires. The titmouse population has declined by nearly 50% over the last five decades or so, although they are not yet considered endangered.
The oak woodland in our campus "mini-wilderness"
The Oak Titmice are highly territorial, and mate for life. They prefer cavities in older trees for nesting, where the female tends the nest and the male provides food. They are preyed upon by a number of mammalian, reptilian and avian predators, but they are also known to chase some of the raptors.

The Oak Titmouse is closely related to a bird of the Basin and Range province called the Juniper Titmouse. The Sierra Nevada and other ranges serve as an evolutionary barrier that has led to the contrasting traits of the two species, and their ranges overlap only on the Modoc Plateau in the northeast corner of California.  The Oak Titmouse is somewhat darker and has a unique song.
One can call them drab, but these are beautiful little birds. Look to see more of them in the future on these pages!

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