If I had a blog, toady I would write about the arrival of Junior and the J.T.’s. These ebullient youngsters aren’t a rock band, although their strident calls are reminiscent of the Big Hair Bands of the 1980s; they aren’t a motorcycle gang, or a new comic strip in the New York Times. Jr. and the J.T.’s are the highlight of my summer, they are fledgling tufted titmice.
Titmice, like their cousins the chickadees, are spirited, smart, and charming. They bring life to my yard most of the year and I miss them terribly when they are on their family-building hiatus in June and July. It has been very quiet around the bird feeders since my little grey friends began courting and nesting, but the silence is about to end.
Titmice raise one brood of chicks each season, laying anywhere from three to nine eggs in a cavity the mother selects, usually a woodpecker hole or other space in a dead tree. The female lines her cup-shaped nest with moss, downy feathers and soft rabbit fur so her chicks will be warm and comfortable, then lays one egg a day until her brood of 6-9 eggs is complete. The eggs hatch in two weeks and stay in the nest until they’ve grown a proper set of feathers, usually about 14 days.
Titmice are a family-oriented bunch and, much like my own family, the young often stay with their parents once they’ve reached adulthood and, until they find a mate of their own, they pull their own weight by caring for the next year’s chicks.
The first year off the nest, titmice are the equivalent of teenagers. This is when Junior and the J.T.’s really strut their stuff. As with human teens, one youngster earns leadership status. He (or she) leads the team as they explore (and exploit) their domain and this earns him the title “Junior.” His siblings are ” The J.T.’s” (junior titmice) and along with the hummingbirds, they will be the dominant presence in the yard from now until frost.
Every day is a new adventure as Junior and J.T.’s explore the world and their innate joi de vie makes them a bright spot in my day. I admire their fearless nature as they plunge beak-first into the bird bath and revel in the experience of getting thoroughly soaked. They don’t care a bit how funny they look when they are wet, they’re having fun and that’s what matters, after all. When they aren’t swimming, they are playing tag on the patio furniture, chasing hapless insects,or pestering the more regal birds, like blue jays and cardinals. They tackle the challenge of seed-eating with gusto and spend hours mastering the art of splitting a sunflower seed with their beak.
As I watch Junior and his compatriots go about their day, I wonder what gives them such a light-hearted approach to life. Some would argue its because they are ignorant (bird-brains, after all), but I think its something else. Rather than see Junior and the J.T.’s as cognitive lightweights, I believe they (and most other animals) know much more than we do when it comes to things of a spiritual nature. They are in touch with The Divine in a way we can never be simply because they are not burdened by an ego. They aren’t mean for sport or jealous or inclined toward self-pity. They have no doubts, because they are free from the inner babble that so often leads us astray. Rather than seeing Nature as an entity that is inferior to the human race, I believe it is the other way around. Nature has conquered its demons and is free to live with an abandon we cannot yet achieve. In the end, I think James Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan, ha the right of things when he wrote, “The reason birds can fly and we can’t is simply that they have perfect faith, for faith is necessary to have wings.” Amen and Amen.