Bushtit

(Psaltriparus minimus)



The Bushtit is very small, drab gray-brown bird with a long tail and a social nature.

They are usually found in flocks of up to 40 individuals, often mixed in with other species.

Where They Live:

A sprightly songbird, that lives along the Pacific coast of North America, from southern British Columbia to Baja California. It is a permanent resident throughout the deserts and mountains of this region, preferring deciduous and coniferous forests, stream sides, oak woodlands and chaparral.

If you live in this tiny bird's territory, look for their gourd-shaped, woven pocket-like nests hanging from a tree branch. Building these examples of elaborate avian architecture requires the efforts of both mates for many days.

Bushtit

What They Eat:

Their preferred food includes insects, spiders, seeds and fruits. They may occasionally visit backyard feeders for commercially packaged seed. More obvious than their choice of food is the Bushtit's manner of foraging.

They hunt together in active, noisy flocks of up to 40 individuals.

These little acrobats hop, flit and swing through shrubs as they feed. They also will join foraging flocks of chickadees, titmice and kinglets.

Appearance:

Bushtits are only three to three-and-a-half inches in length, smaller than their close relatives, chickadees and titmice. They are gray-brown in color with long tails and small bills. The upper mandible of the bill is sharply curved. Females have light, cream-colored eyes, while males are easily distinguished by their dark eyes.

There is some plumage variation among these birds depending on where in the West you see them. Along the coast they have a light brown cap, but in the interior the cap is gray and the birds' cheeks are brown. In the southwest portion of their range, males may have black cheeks.

Nesting and Reproduction

During breeding, larger feeding and roosting flocks break down as individual birds pair together. In early parts of the breeding season, birds often still roost together. During a cold spell, feeding flocks may reform.

Bushtit nests are commonly located low in the woodland shrub layer, suspended among or in the forks of suitable branches.

Once the nest has been constructed, its warmth and security provide adequate roosting space for the pair alone and eggs and or the young.

Nests are enclosed oval or more elongated structures woven from moss, lichen, spider silk, and plant material. Once complete, they are quite light in color, possibly an attempt by the builders to camouflage them against light background breaks in the woodland canopy.

Toward the top of each nest is an entrance hole and is furnished with a soft lining that can include more than 2,000 feathers.

Clutch size is 4-10 eggs. Bushtits incubate for 12–18 days. Once hatched, youngsters are cared for by the parents and, in some cases, other members of the flock, often individuals whose own breeding attempts have failed.

The young fledge within three weeks of hatching and remain with the parents and flock over the first winter.

Voice:

The diminutive size and vocal calls are described aptly in their scientific name - Psaltriparus minimus. The genus, or first name, is Latin meaning "player of lute or zither." The species, or second name, is Latin for "least." The song of this tiny active bird is a high trill that rarely is heard. However, the high pitched twittering calls of foraging birds are heard easily and recognized.

If they weren't all calling at once, a Bushtit call would sound like a thin, "tsip, tsip."

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