Bushtit Revisited

Organizing bird pictures taken last spring along the Lower Hat Creek Trail (Shasta County CA), I wondered how many of the birds I saw on that walk were yearlong residents. Which ones might I see on a similar winter walk? I photographed six birds that day and three are permanent residents.

One bird that can be found year-round is the bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus). No matter where it lives in the West, the bushtit is not migratory. This small, sociable bird usually spends the winter in small flocks.

Bushtits are small grey and brown birds which are fairly uniform in color. Both sexes have similar plumage. Although there are several other species of bushtit found throughout the world. Only P. minimus lives in North America. The two groups of subspecies can be distinguished by their caps – the Pacific Coast bushtits have brownish caps while those of the inter-mountain west are grey capped.

With their short wings, long tails and small conical bills, bushtits are acrobatic, often hanging upside down to pick insects and spiders off the bottom of leaves. They are also in constant motion.

I recently discovered that bushtits make a hanging nest, similar in appearance to the nest of a Bullock’s oriole. (Leonard and I recently saw bushtit nests on display at the Dungeness River Audubon Center in Sequim WA – well worth a visit.) Now I wonder how many of the oriole nests along the Lower Hat Creek Trail are really bushtit nests. We will look more closely next spring and summer.

These bushtits are feeding on the young leaves and flowers of Oregon white oaks (Quercus garryana.)

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