Bird Lore: Bushtit

Photos by LeRoy VanHee.
Photos by LeRoy VanHee.


Togetherness is the way of the Bushtit. It is a long-tailed, drab little bird that is highly gregarious except during nesting season. It has an overall grayish body with a brownish crown. Its eyes are the key to its sex. The female has noticeably yellow eyes and the male has dark eyes. You can see this difference in LeRoy’s two photos.

The Bushtit is a resident, nonmigratory bird and is found in Western Washington, parts of Eastern Washington and throughout the American West. It also inhabits southern British Columbia, Mexico, and parts of Central America. You can find a gang of Bushtits almost anywhere in Edmonds. This highly social species inspires interesting collective nouns. While gang works for me, others refer to a cloud of Bushtits or a flash mob of Bushtits.

Look for 20 – 30 Bushtits gleaning insects from the leaves of deciduous trees and the needles of conifers. While they primarily eat insects, including wasps and ants, they will swarm over a suet bar and are highly attracted to chunky peanut butter. A gang will pile as many as it can into a birdbath at one time, with others waiting their turn. Group bathing seems to be the norm. On cold nights a gang will roost huddled together for warmth.

A Bushtit pair works together to build its nest. It is a tightly-woven hanging pocket up to a foot long. The nest is attached to twigs and branches. The entrance hole is near the top. Both parents incubate the 5 – 7 eggs for about 12 days. The parents and young all sleep together in the nest. Then the young leave the nest after about two weeks. A Bushtit pair will have two broods per year.

You can listen to the tseeez tzee tzee tzee call of the Bushtit at this link:

– By Carol Riddell

Carol Riddell, author of our new “Bird Lore” feature, manages the bird education displays, on behalf of Pilchuck Audubon Society and Edmonds Parks & Recreation, at the Olympic Beach Visitor Station.

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