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Bushtits

Those aren’t locusts swarming your suet feeder – they’re Bushtits!

Photo of Bushtits on Suet Feeder

From a hedge, a cloud of little gray birds with long tails crosses the open space to the suet feeder.  While 10 to 12 cluster on all sides of the suet, 20 or 30 more wait in nearby shrubbery for a turn.  The sound of gentle high-pitched twittering notes “tsit-tsit-tsit” fills the air with sound as the little birds flutter from branch to branch.

Among the smallest birds of North America, Bushtits are only 3-1/2 inches long with tiny bills and comparatively long tails (half the length of the bird).  With a body shape similar to that of a chickadee, their upper parts are dark gray in color with a paler gray underside.  Both sexes look alike except for their eyes – the female has yellow eyes, the male’s are dark.  Bushtits are quite beneficial to Northwest backyards, gleaning large quantities of aphids, beetles, leafhoppers and many other insects.

These gregarious birds spend most of the year in busy flocks of up to 50 birds, staying year-round in the Portland/Vancouver area.  In winter, Bushtits travel in the company of chickadees and kinglets, moving through woods, parks, and backyards as they search crevices for insects. 

Their feeding behavior is both distinctive and amusing.  They bob acrobatically from flimsy twigs, or even hang upside down, searching for food.  Bushtits typically raise two broods of young in the springtime in large, gourd-shaped, sack-like nests that take the birds a month and a half to construct!  Both parents spend 12 to 13 nights in the nest while incubating between five and seven white eggs.