Bushtits are tiny birds, but they can make a shrub bend and wave like a strong wind has just arrived. Bushtits travel in flocks, sometimes up to thirty at once, and they dart and forage busily in tangled branches. Even if they become separated, they are able to find their home group again by listening to the distinct flock-signature calls.
Despite the small size of the birds, bushtit nests are large and intricate. They look like knitted caps that hang from branches. Bushtits gather moss, lichen, feathers, grass, and even spiderwebs and cocoons to create this lovely avian architecture. When I first started birdwatching, a bushtit nest was the first nest that I ever observed closely. It seemed that even the slightest breeze would sway the hanging nest, given the light weight of the occupants. In Northern California, they start their families from March to May, so those months are prime time to search for knitted, swaying nests.
Bushtits are very common in Northern California. Basically, go on a hike and listen for a sudden burst of twittering. The sound is the first signal that a flock is nearby. I was surprised to find so many in the high desert area near the Grand Canyon. In further research, I have realized that bushtits cope with cold desert nights by huddling together in their flocks.
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