Deneen and I were out on a snowshoe in the amazing deep snow we have here in southern New England and came upon this little titmouse in a blueberry bush. Titmice usually are shy around us. This one, on contrast, stayed put even though we were pretty close when we noticed it. The titmouse was intent on getting into an enlarged part of the stem of a blueberry plant. It went at the spot with a great physicality bordering on violence, not something I think of when I see a titmouse. We watched it for more than ten minutes, my shutter clicking away (that usually scares off animals when that close). It finally dropped to the ground after tearing apart whatever was attached to the stem, and pecked at something we could not see in the snow, then flew off.
After it left we took a look at what it was so determined to get into. Below you can see the hole it made. We had to look it up in Eiseman and Charney’s Tracks and Sign of Insects. According to them this is the egg casing (called a ootheca) of a Chinese Mantis. We have a few different kinds of mantis in the eastern US. Each has a ootheca different enough to tell the species apart. Mantis eggs overwinter in the ootheca, their parents having died when the weather gets cold. They will emerge and instantly look for food in the spring.
The little bird got a good meal out of the hundreds of mantis eggs inside. It was a hungry creature, calories are hard to come by this time of year and it takes a lot of them to get an animal weighing less than an ounce through a 2 degree night.
Often having a camera with me can disconnect me with the natural world a little. And sometime, like this time, as I took pictures of the bird it slowed me down long enough to become determined to stay and see what the titmouse was doing and why. Doing so gave us a cool mystery to solve when we got home. Thanks Tufted Titmouse.