How to Identify and Attract a Bushtit Bird

Updated: Feb. 05, 2024

A bushtit is a tiny gray bird with a long tail. Find out where to look for flocks of tiny, insect-hungry bushtits and how to attract them.

What Does a Bushtit Look Like?

Mike AndersonCourtesy Mike Anderson
Bushtits are plain in color with no distinctive field marks.

Sporting a drab gray or dusty brown color, bushtits have short, dark bills and fairly long tails for their tiny size. “They’re really charming once you get to know them,” adds Rebecca Hartley, associate professor at Seattle University, who studies bushtits with her students.

To tell male and female bushtits apart, look at the eye color. Males and juveniles have dark eyes while the females’ are yellow.

They rarely sit for long, flitting from branches and leaves while foraging for a meal or gathering nesting materials.

Learn how to identify and attract a tufted titmouse.

Bushtit Calls and Sounds

With their tsips and trills, you often hear bushtits before you see them leave shrubs by the dozen.

Bird songs courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Meet the adorable black-capped chickadee.

Nesting Habits

Amy Williams Nest 1Courtesy Amy Williams
Male bushtit with nesting material

The bushtits’ nests are tiny engineering marvels made up of moss, twigs, lichen, fluff and spiderwebs, forming a stretchy, hanging pocket roughly a foot long with an entrance near the top. They typically raise two broods each year, with five to seven eggs per brood.

Watch as they employ acrobatics to snag a meal or gather nesting material. “Sometimes I will see them in the corner of a window or on the lamppost. They are picking up spiderwebs for their nests,” Rebecca says.

Amy Williams 1Courtesy Amy Williams
Female bushtit

In some regions of the bushtits’ habitat, unmated males or ones that have lost a nest will not only assist other bushtit parents with nest building, but also provide care for the chicks.

Check out more small brown birds you might see.

Bushtit Range and Habitat

I Have Many Bushtits That Come And Pose At Me Feeders.Courtesy Patti Bright
Bushtits are found year-round in the western states.

Head west to find these tiny birds. These energetic year-round residents are found in the western region of North America, stretching from Mexico to southern British Columbia. They do not migrate.

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Diet: What Foods Do Bushtits Eat?

250905634 1 Jennifer Landahl Bnb Bypc2020Courtesy Jennifer Landahl
Juvenile bushtits

“They are insect eaters, especially in the summer,” says Rebecca, who has watched bushtits bring beautiful green caterpillars—a great source of proteins and lipids—to feed their young ones. Don’t be surprised to see bushtits hanging upside down or contorting themselves while looking for aphids, arachnids and caterpillars to fuel themselves and their young.

On a more surprising note, Rebecca says, “We have seen them foraging on flowers in the wintertime. We think they’re going after the nectar.”

Bushtits stay within the same range during the winter instead of migrating elsewhere, and in some areas accompany warblers and Anna’s hummingbirds in taking advantage of bright yellow mahonia blossoms. According to Rebecca, perennials like these “are providing food when there isn’t much out there.”

Attract Bushtits to Bird Feeders and Backyards

bushtitCourtesy Russell Pickering
Bushtits primarily eat insects but may visit feeders for suet.

To encourage bushtits to visit your yard, Rebecca recommends offering suet, but more importantly planting native plants that provide a midwinter nectar source and a refuge for insects.

“Having a source of water can also be helpful to the birds,” Rebecca says. “They definitely like to have some water.” A shallow birdbath or bubbler works well.

Rebecca also encourages eliminating pesticides, as they can decrease bushtits’ food sources and the spiderwebs they use for building their nests.

Ask the Experts: Bushtit Name

bushtit birdsCourtesy Karen Boos
Bushtit birds on suet feeder

“These birds love my suet cakes. What are they called?” asks Karen Boos of Dolores, Colorado.

Birding experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman say, “These little gray bundles of energy are called bushtits. They get their odd name from the fact that they used to be classified in the same family as titmice and chickadees. Bushtits are social birds, and they usually travel in large flocks.

You’ve probably noticed that several arrive at your feeder at the same time. These birds are plain gray, lacking distinctive field marks, with small bills and long tails.”

Next, learn to identify golden-crowned and ruby-crowned kinglets.

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