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The Oak Titmouse lives year-round in warm, dry, intact oak or oak-pine woodlands on the Pacific slope encompassing several states and Mexico. Loss of natural cavities for this sedentary species is affecting populations. The Oak Titmouse and Juniper Titmouse (B. ridgwayi)were once considered the same species, Plain Titmouse (Parus inornatus). In 1996, the two species were separated because of their distinct genetic, vocal, and ecological characteristics as well as their different ranges. Juniper Titmouse breeds away from the slope in Oregon, California, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona.
The Oak Titmouse and Juniper Titmouse appear identical, but differ in voice as well as range. In general, the bird is brown-tinged with a plain face and short crest, and measures 5.75 inches in length. The Oak Titmouse gives a repeated series of three to seven syllables, each comprised of one low and one high note, while the Juniper Titmouse song consists of a series of rapid syllables on the same note.
Its year-round range is from southwest Oregon through California to northwestern Baja California, Mexico, where it breeds in low to middle elevations. Though the bird clearly prefers open oak and pine-oak woodlands, populations have adapted locally to warm, dry environments without oaks, for example, the western juniper woodland in northern California.
Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data show the Oak Titmouse and Juniper Titmouse declining 1.9% per year throughout California from 1980 through 1996. The Oak Titmouse experienced a 1.6% annual decline in the California foothills from 1966 through 1996.
The titmouse nests in mostly natural cavities and sometimes in old woodpecker holes. It also uses artificial boxes. Female builds nest with grass, moss, feathers, shredded bark, and other material mostly from mid-March through April. Incubation is 14 to 16 days, and young fledge in about 17 days.
The bird requires an elevated perch from which to forage, and changes its feeding strategy to correspond with the seasons. Even if it forages on the ground, it will return to an elevated perch to eat its meal, which consists of seeds, mostly from oaks, as well as a variety of invertebrates including leafhoppers and treehoppers.
Habitat loss from development is the greatest threat to the species. Sudden Oak Death fungal disease, which has killed tens of thousands of oaks in California, may cause the loss of much habitat for the Oak Titmouse though in the short-term it could increase availability of nesting cavities because of the prevalence of dead and infected trees. However, efforts to prevent the spread of the oak pathogen often include removing all dead and infected trees.
Audubon's Mayacamas Mountains Sanctuary, near Healdsburg in Sonoma County, protects Oak Titmouse habitat. Its 1,400 acres of oak woodland and mixed evergreen forest is considered by naturalists to be one of the finest examples of oak-savannah grassland and low altitude conifer forest in the northern California Coast Range.
California Partners in Flight recently created The Oak Woodland Bird Conservation Plan to guide land management policy and action for California's oak woodland habitats and the wildlife that inhabit them. The conservation plan includes increasing the number of dead standing oak species in the Oak Titmouse's range. Live trees with dead limbs as well as diseased trees in which the heartwood decays are especially important. Oak woodlands should be thinned to contain a canopy cover of 40-70%.
What Can You Do?
Audubon's Important Bird Area program is a vital tool for the conservation of Oak Titmouse as well as other species. To learn more about the Important Bird Areas program and how you can help, visit: http://www.audubon.org/bird/iba/.
Support local land trusts, government agencies, and other organizations working to preserve oak forests in your area. Contact your state Important Bird Areas coordinator (http://www.audubon.org/bird/iba/state_coords.html) to find out if there are sites in your area important for Oak Titmouse that need increased protection.
U.S. National Wildlife Refuges provide essential habitat for Oak Titmouse, and a great number of other species throughout the U.S. and its territories. Unfortunately, the refuge system is often under-funded during the U.S. government's budgeting process. To learn more about how you can help gain much needed funding for U.S. National Wildlife Refuges, visit: http://www.audubon.org/campaign/refuge_report/
Information on where Oak Titmouse occurs and in what numbers is vital to conserving the species. Help in monitoring this and other species by reporting your sightings to eBird. A project of Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, eBird is the world's first comprehensive on-line bird monitoring program: http://www.audubon.org/bird/ebird/index.html.
Volunteers are crucial to the success of programs that monitor the long-term status of wintering populations of Oak Titmouse and other bird species. Audubon's Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is one of the longest-running citizen-science monitoring programs in the world and has helped to follow changes in the numbers and distribution of Oak Titmouse. To learn more about the CBC and how you can participate, visit: http://www.audubon.org/bird/cbc.
California Partners in Flight. 2002. Version 1.1. The oak woodland bird conservation plan: a strategy for protecting and managing oak woodland habitats and associated birds in California. (S. Zack, lead author). Port Reyes Bird Observatory, Stinson Beach, CA.
Cicero, C. 2000. Oak Titmouse. (Baeolophus inornatus). Juniper Titmouse (Baeolophus ridgwayi) In The Birds of North America, No. 485 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D. C.