Thursday, April 26, 2012

American Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus)

photo by Bob Steele
When I lived in Anza CA, every summer we'd be visited by rather large groups of a tiny ever so delicate looking bird which ran in groups of anywhere from 10 to 40 of their friends and family foraging around in our Redshank, Mountain Mahogany, Silktassle Chaparral and Manzanitas. While sitting on my deck enjoying the 180 degree view of scenery on a warm summer afternoon when the fragrance of Cleveland Sage was at it's peak and sleepiness was about to overtake all conscientiousness, I would suddenly be alerted from drowsiness with this pleasant and familiar sound. It was the bird called by a rather unusual funny name 'Bushtit' and here is what he looks like as he appears on a branch stalk of Holly-leafed Redberry.

Photo by David Boyd

I have to believe that such an inconspicuous little bird mostly goes un-noticed by the majority of folks. It's colour is not overly striking or impressive, but perhaps in flocking in gang numbers and the collective sound of their chirping they are more easily recognizable and familiar.
The Sounds of a Foraging Gang of Bushtits in Redshank Trees
The sound itself is quick short busts of 'Tsit Tsit' and seems to be a continuous connecting with each others in the group. When a lead bird decides to move the group to another Shrub location for better foraging, this constant chirping & spitting sound seems more to be a reassuring beacon for any stragglers of one or two to radar and home in at the new location. You may even be familiar with a number of other dainty little birds which have the word 'Tit' in their name. 'Tufted Titmouse' , 'Juniper Titmouse' and 'Oak Titmouse'. Then there is not only the 'Bushtit' but also the 'Wrentit'. There are sometimes when I have a hard time saying without wondering if I said a dirty word. *eyes rolling*

Aside from their groupy shrub preening and gleaning, they pair off in the Springtime for mating. I had an Aleppo Pine (Pinus halepensis) a pair and I am assuming the same couple every year though not sure how long lived they are. Here is that tree at my old place that I have shown before. It is the tallest pine with the tiniest needles almost like a pinyon which by the way they prefer since it is in their native range and densely covered with small needles like Aleppo pines.

Photo: Mine
 Here is about what the nest looks like. It's a sort of cleverly constructed sock made up of just about anything they can snatch, even black widow spider egg sacks and webs. don't know how in the world they accomplish that or even thought of it in the first place. Though I must say the most attractive nest with a sock shape have been the Hooded Orioles.
 Unfortunately they were continually harassed by this Guy

image .
This isn't my cat, but the photo is typical of orange Tabby Cats. That darn cat every year was alerted to their sounds and movements. Nothing escaped his notice. Though he was a good mouser and that is why we got him in the first place and of course we really did like him, but sometimes the hunting of other non-targeted wildlife was a challenge to break him of. Needless to say we never did.  Several times I had rescued Chipmonks from his grasp. Oh well, here are a couple of other nest shots to give you an idea of what to look for if you are ever out in the bush and run across one.

Here is the common local Parry Pinyon (Pinus quadrafolia) which is a four needle to a bundle pinyon as opposed to the Single Needle Pinyon (Pinus monophyla) just a few miles away above Palm Desert, CA on the high desert pinyon Juniper woodland country. It also to my estimation has a denser foliage than the other pine. Some may recognize this shot of one in the Garner Valley area just a few miles north of Burn Valley area of Anza CA.

Photo by Jay Sullivan
Notice the four needles to a bundle and the white colour on the undersides. This pine makes a great hiding place for the Bushtits to build their nests. I can see why they may have substituted the Aleppo Pine which has similar tiny abundant needles for a nesting location. Unfortunately that darn cat always knew it too.

Photo by Calflora

Mike Evans
 BTW, if anyone lives near this area and recognizes the tree and collects the pine nuts which are large and edible, Tree of Life Native Plants Nursery wants some of the seeds. Parry Pinyon would make the perfect ornamental small tree for any Southern California native plant urban landscape. But I tried the last two years I was there in the USA trying to collect some cones for Mike, but a strangle anomaly occurred where the nuts from every cone I collected were hollow with no viable nut. Contact Mike Evans at Tree of Life. I've never been so frustrated in collecting any native plant seed as when I tried collecting those cones for Mike before I left for Sweden. Here's what the unripe immature  cones look like.

Photo by Deborah Small
Here's the mature cones that the ScrubJays love so much. This is what they look like if the ScrubJays get there first which is quick. I swear they have radar for this stuff.
Gathering nest material and couples building their nests.

I can tell you that after picking up the nest after the cat knocked it down, it is extremely well insulated. The other interesting thing I saw was that sometimes it just wasn't the parents building the nest but other helpers were chipping in with the project. I often wondered if they perhaps were the previous years young chicks from the same family helping out until their time came for finding a mate. They all seem to house themselves in these rather large nest as well. After rustling noises were heard nearby I would see three or four bolt from the same nest. Evidently they all sleep on twigs on the outside and near the nest after the babies have matured a bit. One other thing I prodded for them and other birds was a watering place. not only for drinking, but also splashing and taking a bath. I know you've all seen these metal frame feeders with the suet and I had several which the ScrubJays loved, but also the Bushtits.

Basically these birds are just another important part of nature and something that definitely adds the 'eye candy' to your backyard. I hope to add them to a list of things for which the Redshank is an important foundation tree in it's area and from which these little guys benefit from eating a little tiny green caterpillar at the end of summer. Hope you are successful at attracting some of them to your private backyard domain someday. Just adding some kool videos for everyone's enjoyment of the funny cute little character of Bushtits in their surroundings. Enjoy!
Bushtits with Anna's Hummingbird

Bushtits at a Pool Party

Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus) visiting nest This tree looks very much like a Larch Tree I saw last week in Poland

Baby Bushtit Birds Fed in Nest 


  1. We actually have a scrub jay down in our desert neighborhood. He's been with us now for 3 years. He SHOULD be up in the pinyon forest by Pinyon. We think he got blown down here and now likes it (since several of us feed him) and doesn't want to leave. I also have a pair of Orioles who come to feed in my front yard. We used to have a family of them in our cottonwood tree our back, but they left, so I'm happy to see them return.
    ~~Cheryl Ann~ (who can't WAIT for the weekend!!!)

    1. I loved the little Bushtits who cam through every year and quite often to feed at the suit cage when the ScrubJays weren't bullying everyone else - LOL

      ScrubJays can easily move along where people go as do other opportunistic birds whose numbers have been fascillitated by human expansion. I hope to write a post about some of these birds soon, as I've noticed the same thing here in Europe.

  2. Wow!!! I'd love to add these little beauties to our garden here. The closest I have is a Verdin that is nesting up in the Oak Tree. I love the nests they create. You have me curious....not that I've heard it happening in Tucson, but I wonder if they pass by here. They must somewhere....I'll have to check it out. Thanks for sharing this info. Have a great weekend. Great pics:)

  3. So I went to Madera Canyon today and noticed their name on the lists....which means, I am now aware of another bird for our area thanks to you:)

    1. Thanks kool.

      I love the little birds. They were always a pleasant welcome sound when the gang came by my bushes and the familt each year built a nest by my deck.

      They are in some ways more delicate and sensitive than hummingbirds who as you know can have feisty personalities, but Bushtits are cute and cuddly. Take a look at a video I've added at the bottom of my post just now of a Bushtit family on a maple tree branch where an Anna's Hummingbird drops by for a visit.




  4. A very enjoyable post, Kevin. Bushtits are, IMHO, the epitome of fluffy gray cuteness. Their call, as you've described, is distinctive and always a welcome sound. They remind me of chickadees with their social, chattery nature and their busy, acrobatic antics as they glean insects from the leaves & branches of the trees or bushes they fly into. You may already know this, but the females have pale yellowish eyes, while the males have dark eyes.

    I not very familiar with Red Shank, although I believe it is related to Chamise or Greasewood (Adenostoma fasciculatum) which is a common chaparral component in our area. I've seen several photos online of Red Shanks with some amazing, peeling reddish bark - quite beautiful and almost manzanita-like.

    1. Yeah there are a great number of birds that I love in the garden. Bushtits meticulously and methodically will go from bush to bush shrub to shrub picking and cleaning every liitle catapiller or grub they can find.

      The ground loving birds are another of those types of birds that are important to attract to your yards.

      Yes, both Greasewood and Redhsank are relatives, but they have never been found to crossbreed and create hybreds because both of their pollenation times are radically different. Greasewood is a spring bloomer and Redshank won't ever bloom until late July early August. Redhank also has an immensely aromatic fragrance when the monsoonal rains come to the mountains. However you can take a garden hose, spray yhte foliage and release some of this fragrance easily. I use to get high off the scent. Kind of like Creosote Bush down in the deserts after it rains there.

      I imagine you often see these mushroom billowing clouds in the afternoon from your vantage point there in La Cresta. Every once in a while, if conditions are right, even you folks will get a spit or to from the ThunderBumpers.


  5. Once the young hatch it's interesting to notice the parents leaving the nest with what looks like a white pellet, that's a collection of the feces of the young. The parent removes that to avoid predators from 'smelling' the nest. This nest was close to a marsh and the parents would actually take the pellet to the marsh and drop it off over there in the water, really reducing the chance of detection.


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