American bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus) is the only species in the family Aegithalidae found in the New World, and the only member of the genus Psaltriparus. In North America, it is referred to simply as “bushtit”.
The American bushtit inhabits mixed open woodlands, often containing oaks and a scrubby chaparral understory; it also inhabits parks and gardens. It is a year-round resident of the western United States and highland parts of Mexico, ranging from Vancouver through the Great Basin and the lowlands and foothills of California to southern Mexico and Guatemala.
The elaborate pendant nest of moss and lichen assembled with spider silk and lined with feathers hangs from a branch.
The American bushtit is one of the smallest passerines in North America, at 11 cm (4.3 in) in length and 5–6 g (0.18–0.21 oz) in weight. It is gray-brown overall, with a large head, a short neck, a long tail, and a short stubby bill. The male has dark eyes and the adult female, yellow. Coastal forms have a brown “cap” while those in the interior have brown “mask.”
The American bushtit is active and gregarious, foraging for small insects and spiders in mixed-species feeding flocks containing species such as chickadees and warblers, of 10 to over 40 individuals. Members of the group constantly make contact calls to each other that can be described as a short spit.
- The Bushtit is the only member of its family in the Americas; seven other species are found in Eurasia. All have similar complex hanging nests.
- 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.
- The oldest known Bushtit was 9 years, 1 month old.