Stop, Thief!

I’m witnessing larceny… in the treetops.

It’s happening right now, just outside my window. We have many snags—dead and declining trees—that are riddled with cavities. Squirrels bunk inside for winter warmth, and in spring, they fill their dens with kits.

Since mid-February, I’ve watched three squirrels carry leaves into cavities, presumably for insulation. Recently, they’ve stepped up the pace, which may mean they’ve had their litters. Each squirrel makes five or six daily leaf runs—or at least, those are the ones I notice.

And then, there’s the thief.

The Tufted Titmouse is a tiny little bird—six inches long. Our Eastern Gray squirrels are about three times that tall and considerably beefier. But their size disadvantage doesn’t stop the birds from pilfering a squirrel’s leafy stash. I see this larcenous act several times each day.

Usually, the birds reach in to pluck leaves located just beyond the den door. Sometimes the little robbers disappear inside to retrieve their booty. And they always seem to linger. Apparently, they’re not afraid of being caught in mid-heist. I suppose their built-in getaway apparatus gives them that confidence.

Here’s a look at one crime scene: evidence captured by my surveillance camera. After the video, I have a question for you, the jurors.

Tufted Titmice are nesting now, so it’s easy to imagine the thieves’ motivation. Like squirrels, they use tree cavities formed by rot or woodpeckers. So, they’re flying stolen goods from the squirrels’ dens to their own nest sites in nearby trees.

What do you think—Is maternal obligation adequate justification for a grand-theft offense? Or should these birds be obliged to rummage through the jumble of leaf litter lining the forest floor?

4 thoughts on “Stop, Thief!”

  1. I don’t know why squirrels’ leaves are more attractive to chirpy titmice but I bet the squirrels don’t even miss the “beak bites.” 😊

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