The Bushtits are Back!

This gallery contains 4 photos. For sheer cuteness, nothing rivals the drab-colored bushtits, extremely social songbirds who flock with others of their kind in large numbers at all times and are seen year round in Metro Vancouver. They have a “Mission Impossible” type manner of feeding: they’re usually in and out of our suet feeder in under a minute and leave just as quickly for their next meals (primarily insects, but they will nibble at small seeds, too) high up in the 100-foot tall Douglas Firs.

The Bushtits are Back!like nuthatches, bushtits will even eat upside down, like this male does from flowering fennel 
f/6.3, 1/400, 500mm, ISO 3200 (taken in the late morning of July 5, 2016)

Smaller that the Black-Capped and Chestnut-Backed Chickadees (but just as round and cute, thanks to a large head, round body, and absurdly long tail), bushtits even raise their young with the help of several young males. Their large hanging sock of a nest (which I have seen on at least two separate occasions) is big to accommodate “one big family” … because everyone–helpers included–sleeps in it at night!

The Bushtits are Back!
a female (the ladies have light-coloured eyes) gleans insects from the California Lilac
f/8, 1/1600, 500mm, ISO 12800 (taken in the evening of April 9, 2015)

In mid-April 2016, our sporadic flocks of Bushtits disappeared and did not reappear for three months (presumably nesting and raising young somewhere else in the neighborhood). Two separate flocks reappeared on a surprisingly cold and rainy July 5 morning, just before noon (one flock in the backyard, the other on the front lawn California Lilac bush). Unlike Black-Capped Chickadees and Dark-Eyed Juncos, Bushtits eat in a co-operative and orderly manner; there is no pushing, no cursing, no fighting, no histrionics enacted over the food (quite ironic, considering the young and adults look very much like baby birds, who are inclined to squabble over who gets to eat first).

The Bushtits are Back!like hummingbirds, bushtits like to bathe on wet leaves … even on a rainy day!
f/6.3, 1/400, 500mm, ISO 1250 (taken in the late morning of July 5, 2016)

Some, like the bedraggled looking fellow above, chose to bathe on the leaves like hummingbirds do. Strange behavior, considering it was raining quite heavily prior to his arrival. Perhaps he didn’t get as clean as he wanted to be. Others took to the fruit and conifer trees to look for insects, while a few buzzed the suet feeder and alternated eating (one “set” would feed, fly off, and another “set” would descend on the suet to feed, etc. Rather well choreographed, if you ask me). Being gregarious birds, everyone keeps in constant contact with each other, by chirping every few seconds, regardless of whatever they’re doing.

The Bushtits are Back!the five amigos: five males who help raise the two fledglings (not seen here)
f/6.3, 1/400, 500mm, ISO 1000 (taken in the late morning of July 5, 2016)

This group of five males (probably the helpers I spoke of earlier) were huddled together for warmth at the top of the plum tree (it was a rainy, cloudy, and surprisingly cold July 5!) There were at least two fledglings (unphotographed here, who were still being fed by the helpers and/or parents). This was a one-in-a-million shot for me. Bushtits are seldom still, and to have them all “posed” with the catchlights in their eyes and facing me (more or less) is like winning the lottery. Bushtits seem incapable of being anything but cute at anything and everything they do. Should you be lucky enough to have them in your backyard or local park, you’re more likely to hear them well before you see them — they are extremely chatty Kathies. Learn more about these songbirds by visiting their Cornell Lab of Ornithology profile.




47 thoughts on “The Bushtits are Back!

  1. Wonderful photos, Hui! So interesting to read about the helper bushtits and that they also sleep in the sock nest. My sister’s neighbours’ rose bush had a bushtit nest last spring when I was living with my sister in Vancouver. Such a delight to watch and listen. And congratulations on winning the lottery! Your photo of the huddled helpers is, as you say, one-in-a-million cuteness. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Stunning captures, it must have felt wonderful to get that last shot. Birds move around so quickly I have never been lucky enough to get the group shots. I guess they stood still to keep warm. So gorgeous and made me smile thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I saw them from the side on the second floor of the house, but didn’t think I’d get a chance to photograph them from the ground. armed with the suet (the suet feeder was empty, thanks to the Black-Capped Chickadees from the day before) and the long lens, I marched down and gave it my best shot anyway … and those five stayed remarkably still and “in character” for the photos. glad you enjoyed the post and photos! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Like, like like these little birds! Amazing photos! They are clearly family-oriented and are a great example of “it takes a village” to raise a child. I was surprised to learn they all slept in one nest – great for warmth although maybe not for comfort, Wish I were there to see them in person but the photos are the next best thing.

    Liked by 1 person

Your comments are like chocolate for my soul ... I can never get enough of them! Bonus brownie points for witty comments! I love a good turn of phrase. :)

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