BUSHTIT
Psaltriparus minimus

Order:  Passeriformes

Family:  Aegithalidae

Alpha Code:  BUSH                   AOU#:  742.0

Band Size:  0A

Bushtits are small birds (11 cm) common in shrubby and woodland habitats.  Its high pitch twittering contact call is first heard followed by the appearance of a flock of bushtits ranging up to 50 birds.  They glean the vegetation for insects often hanging upside down in their search, gradually moving through the area.

Bushtits are grayish above and paler below.  There once was two species of bushtits but have been lumped together.  The dark blackish auriculars is felt to be due to polymorphism rather than specific differences.  In the Far West where I have done my banding, we have the "plain-eared" form.

Bushtits are found in the western states.  In California, they are found everywhere except in the high Sierra and the deserts.  They do not seem to mind residential areas.  Bushtits nested in my backyard in the westside of Los Angeles in my blood orange tree forming an elaborate pendulous nest made up of soft plant material, cobwebs, and man-made items like threads & string.  There were about four individuals involved, always chattering when I approached. Bushtits are one of the first birds described to have "helpers at the nest," but I did not observe feeding.  So it is unclear whether the other two birds were supernumeraries, as they are called.  They are also found in the high deserts of southern California where good stands of desert scrub vegetation exists.

 

Bird Banding Notes:  Prior to 1997, they were called Common Bushtit (COBU), but more recently they are simply called Bushtit (BUSH).  Since they form loose flocks, when one bird is caught in a mist net, a warning predator call goes out attracting the rest of the flock.  My banders have encountered up to 10 bushtits in one net, with other birds chattering from nearby bushes.  Often birds are getting caught in the net as fast as one gets them out. 

They are tiny birds, so some of my big handed banders have difficulty with them.  There is little to help one age bushtits.  Juv birds have a larger, more rounded p10, but after the first PB, no plumage criteria are known to age this bird.  Sexing is easier.  Female birds have pale grayish, white or yellow irises, while males have entirely dark brown irises.  The one tricky thing is that the iris is initially dark in juv birds until after the 1st PB.

Above is a female Bushtit.  Iris can be pale grayish, white, or yellow.

Above is a male Bushtit.  The iris is entirely dark brown.  However, the iris is entirely dark in juvs of both sexes until after the first pre-basic molt.

Longevity Record:  A Bushtit, we originally banded as an adult (AHY) male on 15 April 1994 at the University of California's Burns Pinon Ridge Reserve was recaptured on 12 April 2002.  This will set a longevity record for this species at 8 year, 10 months beating the old record by five month.  Since it is unclear how old an adult (After Hatching Year) birds is when it is banded, the Bird Banding Laboratory arbitrarily sets July 1st as the hatching date of AHY birds.