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Bushtit

Psaltriparus minimus ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: AEGITHALIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Bushtits are sprightly, social songbirds that twitter as they fly weakly between shrubs and thickets in western North America. Almost always found in lively flocks, they move constantly, often hanging upside down to pick at insects or spiders on the undersides of leaves. Flocks of Bushtits mix with similar small songbirds like warblers, chickadees, and kinglets while foraging. Bushtits weave a very unusual hanging nest, shaped like a soft pouch or sock, from moss, spider webs, and grasses.

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At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
2.8–3.1 in
7–8 cm
Weight
0.1–0.2 oz
4–6 g
Relative Size
Slightly smaller than a chickadee; about the size of a kinglet.
Other Names
  • Mésange buissonniere (French)
  • Sastrecillo (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • The Bushtit is the only member of its family in the Americas; seven other species are found in Eurasia. All have similar complex hanging nests.
  • A breeding Bushtit pair often has helpers at the nest that aid in raising the nestlings. This already rare behavior is made more unusual by the fact that the helpers are typically adult males.
  • For most breeding birds, only one adult at a time sleeps on the nest, but all Bushtit family members sleep together in their large, hanging nest during the breeding season. Once the young fledge, they all leave the nest and thereafter sleep on branches.
  • Bushtits are social birds that live year-round in flocks of 10 to 40 birds. They range widely in winter, sometimes moving considerable distances to escape cold weather. When nesting, a pair usually tolerates other flock members near the nest.
  • The oldest known Bushtit was 9 years, 1 month old.

Habitat


Scrub

Across their range, Bushtits live in open woods or scrubby areas, particularly pine-oak woodlands and chaparral, as well as suburbs and parks. They also live in scrub, sagebrush, streamside woods and thickets, and forests of pinyon pine, juniper, and other evergreens up to about 11,500 feet elevation.

Food


Insects

Bushtits eat mostly small insects and spiders, including the very tiny scale insects that adhere to leaves and twigs, as well as other plant-feeding bugs, beetles, caterpillars, wasps, and ants. They less frequently eat plant material, but have been seen eating olives and willow seeds.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
4–10 eggs
Number of Broods
1-2 broods
Egg Length
0.5–0.6 in
1.3–1.4 cm
Egg Width
0.4 in
1 cm
Incubation Period
12–13 days
Nestling Period
18 days
Egg Description
White and smooth.
Condition at Hatching
Naked and helpless.
Nest Description

Both male and female help build the remarkable hanging nest, a process that may go on for a month or more. The nest hangs up to a foot below its anchor point and has a hole in the side near the top that leads down into the nest bowl. The adults make a stretchy sac using spider webs and plant material, sometimes stretching the nest downward by sitting in it while it’s still under construction. They add insulating material such as feathers, fur, and downy plant matter and camouflage the outside with bits taken from nearby plants, including the tree the nest is built in. While the nest is active all the adults associated with it (the breeding pair plus helpers) sleep in it. The pair typically reuses the nest for its second brood of the season.

Nest Placement

Tree

The male and female try out several nest sites by hanging spiderweb from mistletoe or other vegetation. Nest sites tend to be on branches or trunks of trees at any height from about 3 up to 100 feet.

Behavior


Foliage Gleaner

Bushtits are active, social birds that travel in busy flocks. They move through foliage picking insects off leaves and twigs, typically trading soft calls to stay in touch with each other. These are nimble birds that often hang upside down to forage, as chickadees do. Though they occur in large, stable flocks they tolerate intruders, sometimes roosting with other Bushtit flocks, huddling together on cold nights. Within these flocks, several pairs may nest simultaneously, and additional Bushtits beyond the mated pair often attend the nest and help raise the young. These helpers are usually adult males, a pattern that is rare in cooperatively nesting birds. Nesting Bushtits allow other individuals and even some other species near enough to their nest (without chasing them off) that they sometimes get away with stealing nest material. Breeding pairs stay together for several years.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Bushtits are common birds within their range that adjust well to suburbs, and since 1966 their populations have been stable, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 3.2 million, with 70 percent living in the U.S., 2 percent in Canada, and 27 percent in Mexico. They rate an 11 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2012 Watch List.

Credits

Range Map Help

Bushtit Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Resident. Bushtits do not move south in winter, although individuals in mountains may move to lower altitudes during cold weather.

Backyard Tips

Bushtits eat mostly small insects, so they are hard to attract to feeders. You can help make your yard inviting to them by planting native shrubs and small trees.

Find This Bird

Bushtits are inconspicuous but common. Look for them moving through low branches of open woodlands, edges, and park or neighborhood vegetation, where they are active and acrobatic as they search for insects. Listen for their quiet but consistent call notes.