What Does Titmouse Wing-fluttering Mean?
Spring is such an exciting time of year to sit and watch birds, filled with chasing, flirting, feeding, pair bonding, and other courtship rituals. How do you figure out what you are seeing?
Notice Me, Notice Me!
On February 22nd, I watched a pair of our local Black-crested / Tufted x Black-crested hybrid titmice chattering at each other, when one of them began to flutter their wings in the cutest little dance ever. It was fascinating to watch because in the series of shots I got, the other bird paid no attention at all, while the fluttering bird was rotating around, flapping and making very insistent noises – *I* was certainly riveted.
The Baby Flutter
The only other time I had seen a titmouse flutter like this was two years ago, when I had the sheer joy of encountering newly-fledged titmouse babies in our trees. These hungry babies would flutter and vocalize as the parents came close with food.
So it got me wondering…in what instances do titmice use the flutter. Given the time of year, it obviously wasn’t a fledgling food order. Was it a Come Hither dance?
For this level of geekery, I turned to an amazingly in-depth resource – Birds of North America (birdsna.org). It’s a paid subscription, but ever since getting it last year, it has offered me the deepest dive into species information I have found anywhere…sometimes WAY more than I need. It’s a great when you want data-driven explanations.
In this case, the research on Black-crested Titmouse is less thorough and often refers to the Tufted Titmouse as a basis to draw from. Here’s what I learned:
Both sexes engage in “wing-quivering.” Field observations have pinpointed two such instance in the courtship process: early in courtship, the female will wing-quiver to elicit courtship feeding (sometimes the male also does it in return). Later in the process, the wing-quiver seems to be their mode of asking and answering, “Hey baby…ya wanna make some babies?” … “Sure, hot stuff – come on over!” with both sexes engaging in the behavior before he flies over to copulate.
So based on this data, it seems like maybe I saw a precocious girl looking to hook up with a clueless boy 🙂 I’ve been there, lady…hang in there!