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Common Name: American Bushtit
Scientific Name: Psaltriparus minimus

Size: 2.8-3.1 inches (7-8 cm)

Habitat: North America; a year-round resident of the western United States and highland parts of Mexico, ranging from Vancouver through the Great Basin and the lowlands and foothills of California to southern Mexico and Guatemala.

The American Bushtit inhabits open woods or scrubby areas, particularly pine-oak woodlands and chaparral, as well as suburbs and parks. They also live in scrub, sagebrush, streamside woods and thickets, in addition to forests of pinyon pine, juniper, and other evergreens up to about 11,500 feet elevation.

Status: Least Concern. Global Population: Unknown amount of mature individuals. Bushtits are common birds that adjust well to suburbs. Their population size and range have gradually expanded during the twentieth century, possibly because of growth in human settlements.

Diet: Small insects and spiders, including the very tiny scale insects that adhere to leaves and twigs, as well as other plant-feeding bugs, beetles, caterpillars, wasps, and ants. They less frequently eat plant material, but have been seen eating olives and willow seeds. American Bushtits are active and gregarious; foraging for small insects and spiders in mixed-species feeding flocks containing species such as chickadees and warblers that number from 10 to over 40 individuals. Members of the group constantly make contact calls to each other that can be described as a short ‘spit’.

Breeding: Sexes are alike in appearance. The male and female try out several nest sites by hanging spiderweb from mistletoe or other vegetation. They tend to build nests on branches or trunks of trees at any height from about 3 up to 100 feet.

Both male and female help build the remarkable hanging nest, a process that may go on for a month or more. The nest hangs up to a foot below its anchor point and has a hole in the side near the top that leads down into the nest bowl. The adults make a stretchy sac using spider webs and plant material, sometimes stretching the nest downward by sitting in it while it’s still under construction. They add insulating material such as feathers, fur, and downy plant matter and camouflage the outside with bits taken from nearby plants, including the tree the nest is built in. While the nest is active all the adults associated with it (the breeding pair plus helpers) sleep in it. The pair typically reuses the nest for its second brood of the season.

A breeding Bushtit pair often has helpers at the nest that aid in raising the nestlings. This already rare behavior is made more unusual by the fact that the helpers are typically adult males. For most breeding birds, only one adult at a time sleeps on the nest, but all Bushtit family members sleep together in their large, hanging nest during the breeding season. Once the young fledge, they all leave the nest and thereafter sleep on branches.

Cool Facts: The American Bushtit is the only species in the family Aegithalidae found in the New World, and the only member of the genus Psaltriparus. It also is the smallest songbird in North America.

The "Black-eared" Bushtit was formerly considered a separate species (P. melanotis). It can be identified by its dark ear patch (the auricular). This polymorphism does not occur in the northern part of the American Bushtits' range, but is first noted near the Mexican border, primarily in Texas. Most individuals with the black ear patch in that area are juvenile males, and none are adult females – some have only one or two dark lines on the face instead of a complete patch. The Black-eared form becomes more common southward in the northeastern (but not the northwestern) highlands of Mexico until from central Mexico south, all males have a complete black ear patch and even adult females have a black arc over the eye and usually a black line through the eye.

The oldest known Bushtit was 9 years, 1 month old.

Found in Songbird ReMix Cool 'n' Unusual Birds 3

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