Consider the Bushtit …

Yes, let us drag our minds away from the headlines for a few moments to consider the many amazing things about this rather drab, and somewhat unfortunately named little bird.

And it really is minuscule, weighing in at about 5.3 grams — approximately the weight of one nickel. It’s one of the tiniest songbirds, coloured a modest beige-grey and, with it’s squeaky call, very like a flying mouse.

You can see how really tiny they are when they decide to take a bath. I remember how shocked I was as kid when I saw my aunty’s Yorkshire Terriers soaking wet.

Similar effect with bushtits.

It’s hard to decide what I like most about bushtits, but high on the list has to be their nest making technique. Essentially, they weave an elastic sock out of moss, grass, lichen, leaves, small twigs.

A bushtit nest I found lying on the ground after nesting season a few years ago. It measures about 25 cm (10-inches) from top to bottom.

The ingenious addition of spider web to the construction is what makes them stretchy — a handy feature as both parents, possible extra helpers and, eventually, 5-7 baby bushtits, will all be snuggled in there at one time. The interior is made extra cosy with a lining of downy plant material and feathers, while the outside is camouflaged with the addition of material from nearby foliage.

You can see a bushtit popping his head out of the nest, top left.

Another bushtit bonus: they generally come in bulk. It’s rare to see one by itself as they arrive in the garden like an excited tour group on a very tight schedule. One minute there are zero bushtits, then there are thirty. They’ll crowd the local attractions, tweeting their reviews, before abruptly weaving off en masse to the next stop on the itinerary.

They love suet, but they also like the finch feeder — and I’ve even seen them  drink from the hummingbird feeder on occasion.

Another thing for gardeners to love about bushtits — they will eat aphids from your plants! They also enjoy small spiders and other bugs that live on the underside of leaves. Their small size gives them the advantage of being able to hang underneath leaves and access a bug harvest there that’s inaccessible to bigger birds.

Me next!

One of the very most amazing things that I’ve just recently noticed about bushtits is that they can hold food in their little claws and eat it like a sandwich. I thought my eyes were deceiving me at first, so I spent quite a bit of time trying to get a decent photo. Not so easy, as those feet are so tiny and so fast, but here are a few of my efforts to capture the Bushtit Sandwich Effect.

I’ve not noticed any other of our local birds using such a prehensile-like feeding technique, and I honestly don’t remember seeing bushtits doing this until the last few months, so I sort of wonder if it’s one of those miracles of city bird adaptation.

Still need more amazing facts about bushtits? OK, how about the fact that, despite their tiny size and uniform colour,  you can easily tell the males from the females by their eyes? The males have dark, button-like eyes, while the females have light coloured ones — pale gold in our part of the world — giving them that intense “Angry Bird” look I do so love.

Male Bushtit

Female (don’t mess with me) Bushtit

The photo above became the basis of one of my most recent bird portraits of “Agnes, the smallest but by far the most furious of the Furies.”

Do you sometimes hear a small shrub alive with tweets, and then the bush seems to deconstruct before your eyes into a living Escher-like bird design — and it’s bushtits heading off somewhere else? That’s another thing I love about them. They’re magic.

So, while there are definitely a lot of massively worrying things going on in the world right now, this is a small (tiny, really) reminder that there are still many good and amazing things going on all around us — under leaves, inside mossy sock-nests, or flying around in judgemental little groups.

Sometimes, for your own mental health, you just need to Consider the *#@*!! Bushtit …

 

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A Small Care Package

I had meant to write another crow update blog post today, but somehow it was a bit hard to focus on pulling the images and words together.

So, instead, here is a small, somewhat random bouquet of things that are helpful for my mental health at this tough time. I hope they help you too.

First, here is Norman the Nuthatch visiting the garden this morning.

It’s just 5 seconds, but I find playing him over and over again kind of restful.

Second, here is Mr. Pants, looking at me from the wires on our morning dog walk.

Crow Therapy is proving to be a lifeline for me at the moment.

Third, in exceptionally good timing we have Luke the Super Emotional Support dog staying with us for the weekend. Triple-strength dog therapy with Geordie and Nina. They take their work very seriously.

Fourth, and last, we need Edgar’s advice …

As an indoor cat he is already a master of both social distancing and extreme cleanliness.

Further advice he would like to share:  stay safe, nap frequently, and be very kind to others.

 

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Inheritance

Another crow probably came before, but George Broken Beak was the first I knew of to claim the golden ring.

George, fall 2016

Mabel inherited it, and since George died in 2017,  only she has been allowed to perch there. Until very recently.

Mabel, February 2020

The coveted golden ring is actually a yellow metal loop on a yellow metal pole — one of a pair used to suspend the chain that guards the local elementary school parking lot.

A relatively humble throne, but apparently of great significance in the local crow pecking order. I have never seen, for example, Mabel’s new mate, Gus, sit upon it.

In January, Mabel on her post with Gus and one of the kids below.

As recently as February, Mabel seemed to retain exclusive rights to the perch. One day I was walking by and noticed  one of Mabel’s young ones come in for a landing on the revered ring. His claws a-l-m-o-s-t touched down before he remembered himself, making a last minute mid-air flight correction to land on a spot more befitting his station.

Whew, that was close …

Mabel must be getting on by now. Her one bad eye looks worse, although she is still apparently able to see out of it, and she still seems to more than hold her own with the other neighbourhood crows. But some sort of succession plan seems to be in the works.

Family meeting on the railings.

Just last week I walked by and saw a crow that I assumed was Mabel in her usual spot. But no, it was one of the youngsters, and Mabel was sitting by and watching with equanimity. In the photo below, the crow on the furthest spot from the post was Mabel, supervising and making no effort to chase the young one off.

Practice percher

The Heir Apparent, apparently.

I’ve been by a few times lately to see one of the young ones on the perch. I can’t tell if only one of them is favoured with the honour, or if they’re taking turns.

I’m hoping that, in spite of this apparent abdication, Mabel will be around for many years to come. She still seems to rule the neighbourhood with with a determined personality and impressive feather floofing technique.

I can usually tell it’s Mabel from a distance just from her silhouette — the fuzziness, and the attitude.

Mabel, Queen Boudicea of Crows

In looking for the first photo in this post, of George on his yellow perch, I went down a bit of a rabbit hole of memories of him and Mabel together.

Here’s just one of the photos of the two of them I found …

And here is Mabel, keeping on keeping on all these years later.

I photographed her just this afternoon in the plum tree, with spring just around the corner.

 

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In Other News …

Partly to distract myself from the actual news, partly to distract you, here is a long overdue local crow news update.

Finally out of my foot cast, I’m really appreciating being able to get about and check what’s going on with my various crow pals.

So much to catch you up on! I think it’s best I divide this into instalments lest I overwhelm you with it all.

Let’s start today with the general crow mood.

Apparently, one in three crows already think it’s time to get started on the nest.

Three crows silhouette

The air is full of pre-nesting season energy. In previous years I’ve noticed Marvin and Mavis starting to gather twigs as soon as the blossoms are fully out on the plum trees on our street. Almost there now!

In the meantime, there are lots of crow-diverting things going on.

And it’s always worth going to see what the commotion is about.

On one dog walk this week we first saw the conductor with his orchestra.

A walk down the alley where they were performing revealed the reason …

Raccoon under gate

By far the most spectacular gathering was a few days ago when a whole street was suddenly full of crow fury. Trees up and down the block were venues for cacophonous corvid conventions. No “social distancing” or Skype meetings for them, obviously.

All the fury was directed to one chimney, and once I got to the right angle I could see a lone raven trying to enjoy a leisurely brunch on the conveniently flat surface.

Judging by the feathers that floated from the “table” it looked as if a mid-sized bird (possibly a robin) was on the menu.

Even though the raven wasn’t feasting on one of their own, and even though they’re a relative, the crows were in full attack. The raven is permanently on the crows’ naughty list because they will, when the time is right, snatch crow eggs and fledglings.

In spite of their best efforts, the raven spent a good fifteen minutes in the chosen spot finishing their meal.

 

The owner of the chimney came out, wondering why her house was under attack. While I was explaining what was going on the raven finished their snack and flew off.

Today was quieter — a blustery day, so a lot of just-for-fun windborn antics and posing.

Tomorrow I’ll update you on the specific news re. the various crow groups. Quite a few to get through — Marvin & Mavis, Mabel and family, The Pantses, Art and his family, Young Ada — so I think I’ll tackle one a day till we’re up to date.

Think of it a little corvid gossip to break up all the COVID19 news.

 

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Norman the Nuthatch

Norman the NuthatchI had never seen a nuthatch of any kind until Norman arrived in my garden last fall. Suddenly there he was, a tiny flying badger, making peeping noises like the world’s smallest truck backing up in the lilac tree.

Norman is a red-breasted nuthatch, close cousin to the white-breasted, brown-headed and pygmy nuthatches, and the elusive brown creeper.

Red Breasted Nuthatch in Coral Bark Maple

Now, every morning when I go into the garden, after issuing my standard crazy bird lady greeting to the assembled avian company, “Hi there, Birdy McBirdles!” — I’m looking to see if I can spot Norman.

I’ve given him a name since he’s easy to identify, being the only nuthatch in the garden. Some time in late fall a second one showed up, but after a few days of noisy squabbling we seem to be back down to one.

Nuthatch at Bird Bath

The Cornell information on them describes the red-breasted nuthatch as “an intense bundle of energy at your feeder” — and that does just about sum up Norman.

Red Breasted Nuthatch at feeder

He’s a zoomer.

Zooms down to the feeder, back up to the trees — up and down, dozens of times a day.

Pretty fearless too, whipping by inches from my head, and unfazed if I walk right beside the feeder. The other birds are off in a feathery flurry if I get too close, but Norman and his dauntless black-capped chickadee buddies tend to stand their ground.

Nuthatch upside down in hazel tree

Norman often zigzags down the trees head first, like a Skeleton competitor. He is aided in this manoeuvre by the large hook-like claws on his back toes.

Nuthatch with peanut

He’s a picky eater and will often perch at the feeder pulling out, and impatiently discarding, one morsel after another until he finally unearths the specific one he was looking for, usually a nice big peanut.

He’ll fly off to a nearby tree and jam the nut prize into a bark crevice where he can pick away at it at his leisure. The tree bark is also the source of the tasty bugs that make up the rest of his diet.

Nuthatch Call

Beep, beep, beep …

Another cool fact about red-breasted nuthatches — they smear the entrance to their nests (usually excavated in a decaying tree or stump) with sticky resin, presumably to ward off predators or would-be lodgers. To avoid getting stuck themselves, they’ve perfected the art of diving directly and neatly into the nest.

I hope Norman can find himself a mate and they will have fun making a glue-guarded nest. Maybe we’ll see some nuthatch babies later this spring.

I’ll keep you posted on the Norman News.

Windy Day Nuthatch

Norman on a blustery day, showing off that big back claw.

Nuthatch Ahoy

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.