December 1, 2012

Of Mouses and Men

The bird feeding season is in full swing in our garden, especially with a nice, December snowfall. Here,  a Tufted Titmouse enjoys a snack of sunflower seeds.

Feeding birds in our garden has a long history which reaches far back to the early 2oth century, when in the 1920's my dad, his brothers and my grandparents fed birds during the winter months. You could even that that due to our gardens unique location, just south of a populated city, yet attached to a woodland, that it could be considered a birding hotspot, not unlike central park in NYC ( but smaller!). I am discovering a renewed obsession this winter with birdwatching and bird feeding. Today, Jow an I just completed a feeding stations consisting of a 50 foot wire with 6 feeders, two thistle, one hopper feeder and a table top feeder. Along with two suet feeders, I think it's safe to say that I've gone off the deep end once again. Then again, I suppose it is already in me genes.

Some sightings at our feeders on this first day of feeding ( clockwise from upper left) A female Downy Woodpecker rests on a Japanese Maple trunk as I affix some suet to a new feeder. Next, a stunning Red-Bellied Woodpecker arrived just after lunch (new bird for my life-list!).  Finally, a purple House Finch patiently waits while some squirrels tested the seed.

OK...so Titmice. What's the deal with that name? As a child, my brothers and I would all snicker when we would hear my dad say that he needed to go feed the titmice, but really? Where did this name come from? And with that said, should they be called titmice or titmouses?

The answer is actually quite interesting....

A Tufted Titmouse baeolophus bicolor enjoying some sunflower seeds during todays little December snowstorm.

Thanks to an old book which I found in our home library, I found part of the answer to this question. The book " 100 Birds and How They Got Their Names" informed me that the name Titmouse has nothing to do with mice, or for that matter, (sorry guys) - ta ta's. So grow up and grab your sardines, 'cause the name Titmouse comes from the Icelandic word titr, which means "small', and the Anglo-Saxon word mase, which means something close to "cute small bird". As language evolved, the books states that the word eventually became titmouse.

But wait, Wiktionary has a slightly different explanation. According to Wiktionary, the name Titmouse actually comes from Middle English Titmose,  ( remember, most genus of Titmice are European, and thus, Old World). Not that this is much different than my books' definition, as it is still a compound word composed of tit ( again, "small bird" but opposite of the Icelandic definition) and the Old English māse  ( "titmouse"), from Proto-Germanic maison, or maisaz ("tiny, puny") still completely unrelated to mouse.

I know, I am getting far too Frasierish here, so to summarize, I imagine that whatever the root name of Titmouse is, it was first noted in Europe where other passerine birds are known as 'tits' live, and then, once explorers arrived in the New World,  they used the same name for our own Tufted Titmouse.

I have seen the word Titmice used everywhere from bird books to Wikipedia, but it seems it is improper, but that said, the plural for house, is properly hice, and even the fussiest Scrabble player would ever use that.

Finally, a 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica confuses us even more, so briefly:
Greek - TcTis which means small chirping bird
Iceandic - Titingur
Scottish - Titling

Yeah, I prefer Titling, but I doubt I could ever convince anyone else other than myself to use the name. Tufted Titlings. (tee hee). OK. Grow up.

So Titmouses it is. This global group of birds, grouped together and known as tits, include many related species which live throughout Northern Europe, Asia and North America, for there is no one, single "titmouse". Indeed, the name began in England referring to a small number of related English tits, and today includes species from a large number of genera around the globe, except Australia and South America.

A Cardinal feasts on a slice of Wegman's Cinnamon Bread, passing over black oil sunflower seeds and fruit. This serious seed-eater still has a junk food fetish.

Puppy cuteness. Lydia's puppies, week 5. Eyes open, first day of solid food and tails a-waggin. We lost the runt puppy last Saturday night, she was so small, and not gaining weight. Here, her brother and sister enjoy their first snow.

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