AskDefine | Define titmouse

Dictionary Definition

titmouse n : small insectivorous birds [syn: tit] [also: titmice (pl)]

User Contributed Dictionary



From titmose, from tit, + Old English mase (titmouse). The plural is formed in imitation of the otherwise unrelated mouse.


  1. Any small passerine bird of the family Paridae, which are found in the woods of the northern hemisphere and of Africa.



Extensive Definition

The tits, chickadees, and titmice comprise Paridae, a large family of small passerine birds which occur in the northern hemisphere and Africa. Most were formerly classified in the genus Parus.
These birds are called "chickadees" (onomatopoeic, derived from their distinctive "chick-a dee dee dee" communication or alarm call) or "titmice" in North America, and just "tits" in the rest of the English speaking world. The name titmouse is attested from the 14th century, composed of the Old English name for the bird, mase (Proto-Germanic *maison, German Meise) and tit, denoting something small. The spelling was influenced by mouse in the 16th century. These birds are mainly small stocky woodland species with short stout bills. Some have crests. They are adaptable birds, with a mixed diet including seeds and insects. Many species will live around human habitation and come readily to bird feeders for nuts or seed, and learn to take other foods. In Britain, Great Tits and Blue Tits famously learned to break open the foil caps sealing bottles of milk that had been delivered to homes to get at the cream floating on top.
These are hole-nesting birds laying speckled white eggs.


More recently, the large Parus group has been gradually split into several genera (as indicated below), which has been pioneered by North American ornithological authorities and to a more limited degree (as of now) elsewhere. Whereas in the mid-1990s, only Pseudopodoces, Baeolophus, Melanochlora and Sylviparus were considered well-supported by the available data as distinct from Parus (Harrap & Quinn 1996). Today, this arrangement is considered paraphyletic as indicated by mtDNA cytochrome b sequence analysis and Parus is best restricted to the Parus major - Parus fasciiventer clade, and even the latter species' closest relatives might be considered a distinct genus (Gill et al. 2005).
In the Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy, the Paridae family is much enlarged to include related groups such as the Penduline tits and Long-tailed tits, but while the former are quite close to the titmice indeed and could conceivably included in that family together with the stenostirid "warblers", the long-tailed tits are not. Indeed, the Yellow-browed Tit and the Sultan Tit are possibly more distant to the titmice than are the penduline tits (Gill et al. 2005 and Jønsson & Fjeldsa 2006). If the two current families are lumped into the Paridae, the titmice would be a subfamily Parinae.
Alternatively, all tits - save the 2 monotypic genera discussed in the preceding section and possibly Cyanistes, but including Hume's Ground Tit - could be lumped in Parus. In any case, 4 major clades of "typical" tits can be recognized: the dark-capped chickadees and their relatives (Poecile including Sittiparus), the long-crested Baeolophus and Lophophanes species, the usually tufted, white-cheeked Periparus (including Pardaliparus) with more subdued coloration and finally Parus sensu stricto (including Melaniparus and Macholophus). Still, the interrelationship of these as well as the relationships of many species within the clades are not well resolved at all; analysis of morphology and biogeography probably gives more a robust picture than the available molecular data (Gill et al., 2005).
Titmice have settled North America twice, probably at some time during the Early-Mid Pliocene. The first were the ancestors of Baeolophus; chickadees arrived somewhat later (Gill et al., 2005).

Species in taxonomic order

might be included here
  • Genus Pseudopodoces
    • Hume's Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis (previously "Hume's Ground Jay")This species has only recently been removed from the crow family Corvidae and placed here.
  • Genus Melanochlora
These two monotypic genera are possibly less close to titmice than are the penduline tits.


  • Del Hoyo, J.; Elliot, A. & Christie D. (editors). (2006). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 12: Picathartes to Tits and Chickadees. Lynx Edicions. ISBN 9788496553422
  • Gill, Frank B.; Slikas, Beth & Sheldon, Frederick H. (2005): Phylogeny of titmice (Paridae): II. Species relationships based on sequences of the mitochondrial cytochrome-b gene. Auk 122: 121-143. DOI: 10.1642/0004-8038(2005)122[0121:POTPIS]2.0.CO;2 HTML abstract
  • Harrap, Simon & Quinn, David (1996): Tits, Nuthatches & Treecreepers. Christopher Helm, London. ISBN 0-7136-3964-4
  • Jønsson, Knud A. & Fjeldså, Jon (2006): Determining biogeographical patterns of dispersal and diversification in oscine passerine birds in Australia, Southeast Asia and Africa. J. Biogeogr. 33(7): 1155–1165. (HTML abstract)
  • Slikas, Beth; Sheldon, Frederick H.; Gill, Frank B. (1996): Phylogeny of titmice (Paridae): I. Estimate of relationships among subgenera based on DNA-DNA hybridization. Journal of Avian Biology 27: 70-82.

External links

titmouse in Old English (ca. 450-1100): Māse
titmouse in Catalan: Paridae
titmouse in Czech: Sýkorovití
titmouse in Welsh: Titw
titmouse in German: Meisen
titmouse in Spanish: Paridae
titmouse in Esperanto: Parida familio
titmouse in Persian: چرخ‌ریسک
titmouse in French: Paridae
titmouse in Croatian: Sjenice
titmouse in Korean: 박새과
titmouse in Ido: Paruo
titmouse in Italian: Paridae
titmouse in Georgian: წივწივასებრნი
titmouse in Luxembourgish: Meesen
titmouse in Lithuanian: Zyliniai
titmouse in Hungarian: Cinegefélék
titmouse in Dutch: Echte mezen
titmouse in Japanese: シジュウカラ科
titmouse in Norwegian: Meisefamilien
titmouse in Norwegian Nynorsk: Meisefamilien
titmouse in Polish: Sikorowate
titmouse in Portuguese: Paridae
titmouse in Russian: Синицевые
titmouse in Finnish: Tiaiset
titmouse in Swedish: Mesfåglar
titmouse in Turkish: Baştankara
titmouse in Ukrainian: Синиця
titmouse in Chinese: 山雀科
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