We moved to our house in the fall of 1998, which is when I rather fell in love with Bushtits. We have them year round because we maintain this protected suet feeder for the smaller birds. The squares you see in the video are about 1-1/2 inches, so that gives you an idea of the size of bird that can access the suet inside. Bushtits measure only 3 to 4.5 inches in length and weigh between .1 and .3 oz. The Bushtit's wingspan measures approximately 7 inches across (information that makes the image at the end of this post all the more special). One online bird site describes the bird as "drab," but I disagree. I think they are adorable with their beady eyes, tiny black beaks, and stiff fan tails. We wondered in years past if some of the birds had an eye disease or might have been blind, but I just read that the females' eyes turn light after they are born so that answered that!
I am thrilled by the large flocks of them that fly together from bush to bush, feeder to fern (where they hang upside down collecting insects). They make a high-pitched sound that I used to hear easily from inside the house before we had double windows installed. I was surprised a few days ago when I heard so distinctly some consistent chirping from outside the kitchen window. I spotted this pair -- actually the first time I've ever seen just a pair which means these two just may give us an opportunity to see baby Bushtits later on (I cannot imagine how tiny they would be). They were involved in this intricate staccato, see-saw sort of mating dance. It was followed by him quickly mounting her and then returning to her side to continue the dance. That's when I grabbed the camera. I was glad to capture more of the dance but they did not mate again in view of the camera. The pair returned to the feeder again on Thursday, where they fed nearly all day long. No more ritual dancing. I think they are fueling up to work on a nest, which I hope to spot in a tree in our yard. I'll let you know if I find it.
- Both the male and female will incubate the eggs, sometimes even at the same time.
- Bushtits travels in flocks of up to 60 birds until breeding season when they break off into pairs.
- The nest is an impressive, woven, hanging basket with a hole high up on the side of the nest and a passageway to the nest chamber at the bottom. It can be up to a foot long, and is generally built of spider webs, moss, lichen, and other plant material.
- This bird often has helpers at the nest, birds other than the parental pair that feed nestlings. All family members sleep together in the complex nest during breeding, but they leave it after the young fledge, and sleep on branches.
In the course of preparing this post I came upon a journal by Vancouver Island bird photographer,
Mike Yip, whose work is truly spectacular. The captivating image below is from a series he titled
Bushtit Ballet that will delight you. It is about mid-way through his Journal 321 post, just past the Anna's Hummingbird shots. I loved looking at all of them (especially his images of the wood duck, such a beautiful bird) but his capture of the Bushtit Ballet, along with great text, is something I will not forget!
Photo by Mike Yip
I love these tiny birds and think they are full of personality.