Volume 13, Issue 4 ~ January 27 - Febuary 2, 2005
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Earth Journal
by Gary Pendleton

More Than One Tufted Titmouse

Even among long-time birders, the familiar titmouse remains a dilemma. "What about the tufted titmouse?" one recently asked. "Is the plural titmice or titmouses?"

The tufted titmouse and chickadee are both members of the Paridae family, which consists of over 40 species worldwide. Paridae is the Latin word for titmouse.

I visited the library to consult the Oxford English Dictionary. Tit comes from Iceland of all places. Deriving from tittr, it means something small. Mouse is from the Anglo-Saxon mase for little bird, according to Christopher Leahy's authoritative The Birdwatchers Companion. Leahy and the OED part company on the proper pluralization, which is titmouses, according to Leahy.

Titmice (or mouses) have small crests like cardinals do. Hence the adjective tufted. Their colors are gray and white with a pale buff patch on their sides.

Many will recognize the sweetgum tree by its familiar spiky seed balls, which provide winter sustenance for the titmouse as well as many other birds. This tree - found mainly in coastal areas, where it is quite common - is a good representative of Chesapeake country woodlands. The star-shaped leaves have a pungent scent when crushed. In fall, they display a brilliant range of colors: red, yellow, purple and green on the same tree. Sweetgum refers to the resinous sap, called liquidambar in Latin.

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