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.
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.
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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