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.

 

Like nuthatches, bushtits will even eat upside down, like this male does from flowering fennel. Taken in the late morning of July 5, 2016. © W.H. Sim, All Rights Reserved.


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!

 

A female (the ladies have light-coloured eyes) gleans insects from the California Lilac. Taken in the evening of April 9, 2015. © W.H. Sim, All Rights Reserved. 


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).

 

Like hummingbirds, bushtits like to bathe on wet leaves ... even on a rainy day! Taken in the late morning of July 5, 2016. © W.H. Sim, All Rights Reserved.


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 five males who help raise the two fledglings (not seen here)Taken in the late morning of July 5, 2016. © W.H. Sim, All Rights Reserved.


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. ✍️

Published by Hui Sim