Ask the Experts: How to Identify a Bushtit Bird

A bushtit is a tiny gray bird with a long tail. Females have white eyes. Look for these small fliers in the western mountains and forests.

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What Does a Bushtit Look Like?

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: 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.

Here’s a fun fact: Male and female bushtits look nearly identical. If you look closely, you can tell the sexes apart by eye color. Females have whitish eyes, and males have dark eyes.

Meet the adorable titmouse bird family.

Nesting Habits

250905634 1 Jennifer Landahl Bnb Bypc2020Courtesy Jennifer Landahl
Juvenile bushtits

According to the Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America, bushtits build a hanging nest pouch woven using plant material.

“I took this picture in my backyard, with a Nikon D750 & 600 mm Tamron lens. They are bushtit babies. For me it’s special because it’s a rare opportunity to see four tiny baby birds and then catch a shot of them,” says Jennifer Landahl of Mount Vernon, Washington.

Bushtit Range and Habitat

Head west to find these tiny birds, from Washington state to western Texas. Their preferred habitat is western mountains, foothills and coastal woods. They stay in their range year-round and do not migrate.

Look for energetic verdin birds in the Southwest.

Bushtit Pictures

Bbas16 JoansparksCourtesy Joan Sparks

Feathered Friends and Flowers

“Flocks of bushtits visit our property year-round. They fly from the grevillea hedge to the Mexican sage, getting their fill of bugs. Although they rarely get close enough for a photo, I got lucky with this one. These adorable little birds are very quick and hard to photograph,” says Joan Sparks of Cupertino, California.

I Have Many Bushtits That Come And Pose At Me Feeders.Courtesy Patti Bright

Backyard Birds

“I have many bushtits that come and pose at my feeders,” says Patti Bright. Follow these top tips to attract birds to your feeders.

250866890 1 Anna Smith Bnb Bypc2020Courtesy Anna Smith

Rainy Day Birding

“Bushtits are difficult to photograph due to their speedy movements, but luck blessed me with this little female and her conspicuous eye. She was drinking the rain droplets from the pine needles and paused for a split second. That’s when my shutter clicked. I took the photo at Holmstead Ranch in Central, Utah, with a Nikon D7200 with 300mm lens. That split second pause made this a special capture,” says Anna Smith.

bushtitCourtesy Russell Pickering

Bushtits in Winter

“The day after a huge snowstorm, the birds came out from their hideaways. I noticed a large flock of bushtits darting through the trees, so I grabbed my camera in case one of them sat still for a second. I was grateful for the opportunity to photograph a bird that is common in Colorado but difficult to capture!” says Russell Pickering of Loveland, Colorado.

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

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Lori Vanover
Lori Vanover is the senior digital editor for Birds & Blooms. She has a bachelor's degree in agricultural and environmental communications from the University of Illinois. Lori is certified as a Wisconsin Extension Master Gardener and is also a member of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology.