I saw a handful of these little featherballs busy pecking in the crown of a fennel bush. How odd, I thought, since the fennel was still mostly in bloom and hadn’t converted to seeds yet. But maybe these were weird birds that loved fennel flowers, why not? It wasn’t until I got the images home and looked them up that I realized these birds were bushtits. The long curved beak had me fooled thinking this was a bird I hadn’t seen before. But online photos do show some bushtits with longer beaks like this one, not just the more typical stubby little ones. That solved, I got it that these birds weren’t after the flowers. They were after the bugs on the flowers. Bushtits are carnivores, and will eat berries and seeds only rarely. (They won’t usually come to feeders.) Here’s a closeup of this bird with some kind of larva or young caterpillar in its beak:
The one in the video is a female. Males have dark eyes. She not only worked the fennel crown from above, she dove underneath and worked upside down, the better to get at bugs hiding underneath.
Bushtits supposedly live here all year and breed here. They build unique hanging nests and have unusual parenting practices. The Cornell website mentions these points:
- 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.
- Bushtits are social birds that live year-round in flocks of 10 to 40 birds. They range widely in winter, sometimes moving considerable distances to escape cold weather. When nesting, a pair usually tolerates other flock members near the nest.
Those unique hanging nests, however, tend to be well concealed in dense foliage. My guess is that the nests are somewhere in the Berkeley Meadow (Sylvia McLaughlin Eastshore State Park) with its extensive groves of deciduous trees.