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Bushtit - BirdForum Opus

Photo © by Glen Tepke.
Garrapata State Park, Monterey County, California, 24 August 2003
Psaltriparus minimus


One of North America's smallest birds other than hummingbirds, only 10-11 cm (4.5 inches) in length, nearly half of which is the long, narrow tail. Its weight is only 4.5-6 g
Eyes are dark in the male, but cream to yellowish in the female.

  • Coastal birds have brown crowns; interior birds are more gray overall with brown cheeks.
  • Birds from southern Texas southward have black masks in males, dusky masks in females.
Male "Black-eared Bushtit"
Photo © by Thomas P Brown
Mexico City, Mexico, 13 March 2016


Southwestern British Columbia and south through western USA (east to western Texas) and Mexico to Guatemala.



The Bushtit has 10-12 subspecies depending on authority[1][2][3]:

The forms with black mask (subspecies including at least P. m. melanotis and P. m. personatus) were formely considered a distinct species, the Black-eared Bushtit P. melanotis. There is a complex transition zone between this and the northern forms.

Photo © by jvhigbee
Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, Washington, USA, 16 February 2005

P. m. minimus Group (Pacific)

  • P. m. saturatus':Southern British Columbia, Puget Sound lowlands and Whidbey Island
  • P. m. minimus: Pacific coast west of the Cascades (northern Oregon to southern California)
  • P. m. melanurus: Coastal southern California (northern San Diego County) to northern Baja
  • P. m. grindae: Mountains southern Baja California (Sierra de la Laguna)

P. m. plumbeus Group (Interior)

P. m. melanotis Group (Black-eared)

  • P. m. dimorphicus: Mountains of north-western Mexico (Sonora to Sinaloa and northern Coahuila)
  • P. m. iulus: Mountains of western Mexico (Durango to southern Jalisco and western Tamaulipas)
  • P. m. personatus: Mountains of central Mexico (Michoacán to western Veracruz and Puebla)
  • P. m. melanotis: Mountains of southern Mexico (Guerrero, Oaxaca and Chiapas) to Guatemala

A study shows genetic divisions within this species possibly indicating a future split.


Photo © by marcsantacurz
Santa Cruz, California, 16 June 2020

Two populations differ in using scrub along the coast, and mainly oak-pine woodlands in the mountains. Southern populations especially are limited to higher altitudes in mountains.


These birds roam in flocks, flowing from one tree to the next, keeping the group together with a constant chatter of calls. They are non-migratory, but may move to lower elevations in the colder months. Gregarious except when breeding. Groups are often seen huddled together on nightly roosts to conserve body heat.


Food is mostly insects and spiders with some small seeds, galls, and other vegetable matter mixed in. Food is usually caught by gleaning, and the majority of time is spent gleaning from leaves with the rest being on small twigs near the tip of a branch. Type of preferred tree differs regionally and with the time of year; sometimes the birds prefer flowering trees due to the insects attracted to the flowers.


Nest is a hanging sack constructed of spiders' webs and vegetable matter. One to two clutches per year, usually reusing the same nest. Brood size is 4-10, usually smaller in south than in north part of the range; when applicable, second clutch is laid while the young of the first clutch is still dependent on the parents. Some pairs get help to bring up the young from other birds, which can be of either sex and adults or young, and are usually siblings or other close relatives.


Bushtits don’t have a song in the usual sense, but they do make a lot of contact calls, typically tsit or spit, which vary in loudness and frequency, depending on the situation. For instance, soft calls are made in foraging flocks to help individuals know where their flockmates are. Louder calls are heard in nest building activity and during mobbing behavior.

If an individual is separated from the flock, it will give a high-pitched, bell-like call which carries a long distance.

Soft twittering calls can occasionally be heard when several Bushtits huddle together.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, S. M. Billerman, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2019. The eBird/Clements Checklist of Birds of the World: v2019. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Gill F, D Donsker & P Rasmussen (Eds). 2020. IOC World Bird List (v10.1). doi : 10.14344/IOC.ML.10.1. Available at http://www.worldbirdnames.org/
  3. Del Hoyo, J, A Elliott, and D Christie, eds. 2008. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 13: Penduline-tits to Shrikes. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. ISBN 978-8496553453
  4. KERR, K.C.R., STOECKLE, M.Y., DOVE, C.J., WEIGT, L.A., FRANCIS, C.M. and HEBERT, P.D.N. (2007), Comprehensive DNA barcode coverage of North American birds. Molecular Ecology Notes, 7: 535-543. doi:10.1111/j.1471-8286.2007.01670.x
  5. Sloane, S. A. (2020). Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.bushti.01
  6. Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 2019. Bushtit in: All About Birds. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/ Accessed on 26May 2020

Recommended Citation

External Links

GSearch checked for 2020 platform.1