A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


The latin name inornatus ("unadorned") is perhaps fitting for this plain grey bird, but that's not to say Oak Titmouse has no distinguishing features--note its crest and large, mouse-like eye. One of Sonoma County's more common woodland birds, Oak Titmouse is present virtually anywhere there is oak and other broadleaf forest, but the bird is a common feeder visitor (particularly in the winter) and is often found in suburban settings and urban parks as well. Generally not found in conifer forest or in fog-bound coastal areas.

Our only small, grey, crested bird. Unlikely to be confused with anything else, except perhaps Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus), which is smaller, often has a warmer color on the head and flanks, has a proportionately long tail, and a very small eye. Bushtit tends to fly in small flocks (although usually moves in pairs during the breeding season), while Oak Titmouse generally does not form flocks. Oak Titmouse is most commonly (although not always) seen alone or in pairs. Note that the bird in the photo above is wet in the rain, with its crest pressed down.

Oak Titmouse has a very wide vocal range, but most commonly says tsick-a-dee or tsick-a-dee-dee, sounding more like a chickadee than a chickadee. Also says chee-wit, chee-wit, chee-wit, sounding to me like one of those record player-manipulating DJs moving an LP rapidly back and forth under the needle. Sometimes says something like wheatie, wheatie, wheatie. The voice of Chestnut-backed Chickadee (Poecile rufescens) is higher, thinner, and more often has the extra syllable (sick-a-dee-dee) or sometimes two (sick-a-dee-dee-dee), but, personally, I like to see the bird making these sounds, as the two often sound so similar.

Older books will refer to Oak Titmouse as "Plain Titmouse" and assign it to the genus Parus, as Parus inornatus. Oak Titmouse and Juniper Titmouse (today Baeolophus ridgwayi) were formerly considered a single species, Plain Titmouse. The American Ornithological Union split the birds around 1997. Juniper Titmouse occurs east of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It looks very, very similar, but is slightly larger and paler than Oak Titmouse, prefers juniper and piñyon pine-juniper forest (rather than oak and mixed forest), has a slightly different call, and is said to be genetically distinguishable. The ranges overlap in the extreme northeast of the Oak Titmouse's range, around the border between Siskiyou and Modoc counties, in the extreme north of California. Confusingly, some sources list Juniper Titmouse as Baeolophus griseus.

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 91

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 337, 355

Burridge, ed., Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995, p. 117 (as Plain Titmouse)

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 334

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, p. 374

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, pp. 468-469

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 422 (as Plain Titmouse)

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 279

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 331-334

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 284

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, pp. 204, 205, 206

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 54

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 276

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 260

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 319

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 527

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 453

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Oak Titmouse



© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


For comparison: Bushtit--Note lack of crest, small size, proportionately long tail, and proportionately small eye

Oak Titmouse

Baeolophus inornatus

Oak Titmouse, Stone Castle Lane, Santa Rosa, December 10, 2010

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated July 29, 2013

EBird reported occurrence in Sonoma County