Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Prized Nest

Old-tyme readers may recall that I enjoy cataloging nature around my apartment. Blog posts and art projects are my primary documentation. One of my favorite little birds is the common bushtit. Not only is the bird's name funny, it is a fun bird to watch. I often see them traveling in groups of 15-30 birds, hopping between bushes and trees in search of insects and berries. As very social birds, they tend to cheep up a storm. Last year, one of my birding friends alerted me to the fact that these birds build amazing nests. I never imagined that North American birds constructed anything other than, well, birdnest shaped nests. Bushtits build socks! Employing nature's wonder-material (spider webs) as the main structural element, these little birds build deep (and toasty) sacks.

After a year of casual searching for a nest, last weekend I spotted one during my required daily ambulation period! (Too much studying turns my brain to sludge, and walking/running around is excellent DVT prophylaxis.) These nests are amazing. Here's a photo of the nest I found; it's silhouetted against a typical Seattle grey sky:

Evidently, bushtit nests are warm enough that the jelly-bean sized eggs need only be incubated 40% of the day. The nests are used for a period of 8 weeks and support two broods each year. If they are disturbed, adults will abandon the nest and build a new one. It takes 3-5 days for a nest to be built. In urban areas, crows like to tear apart the nests and devour the babies; some observers report that the crows do this 'just for fun.' Humans also tend to collect these nests. Sadly, a week after I snapped this photo, the nest was gone. Someone clipped the branch from which it hung. I have since spotted two other bushtit nests in the area. Hopefully, those socks will support a few broods before falling victim to predators.

If you're in Seattle and want to know where the other nests that I've spotted are, I'll tell you if you promise not to disturb them!

For more info about bushtits or any other bird in Washington State, visit the BirdWeb site. It's an excellent resource for pictures, habitat, songs, distribution and behavior. (That's where I got the nice little bird picture above.)


Anonymous said...

Tom: thanks for the info and the photo of the bushtit nest. I am a family doc in Hood River,OR and was trying to identify a nest in a Doug.Fir just a few feet outside our house. It is clearly a bushtit nest based on this bird's size, appearance, and now, the unique appearance of the nest. It really does look like a full hanging fuzzy sock with a hole near the top. It is very well hidden and took me a while to find it. There are bushtits flitting about but I don't hear any babies yet.
There IS a Western Tanager nest just 10 feet above the bushtit nest (on another branch) and IT IS full of babies! :^)
James Brauer MD

Anonymous said...

Tom - I live in Seattle also and now have bushtit nest in my front yard - so far so good.
What an amazing nest - thanks for the info and I sure hope that the crows don't get this one!
Aileen Gagney

Eileen Brown said...

I'm down in San Jose, CA and I also have a bushtit nest in my back yard in my orange tree and it is beautiful. -Eileen

Falline Danforth said...

Hi - I live in Sunnyvale, CA, near San Jose, and for the second year in a row, bushtits have built a nest in a live oak tree in my front yard. Amazingly, both these nests were built only about 6 feet above the ground and right next to my driveway.

Ashley09181992 said...

I live in Beaverton, Oregon and found a bushtit nest in my backyard. They put the nest in a rosebush right next to the window. I've seen the little birds on the leaves right in front of the window. This is the first time I have ever laid eyes on the birds. The nest intrigued me and I spent a long time trying to find out what type of bird it was. I have seen the birds going into the nest and seen it wiggling when they are not. I've lived in Oregon all my life and this is the coolest bird I have seen in a long time. Hope the babies survive.

jmillertax said...

I am in San Jose and we have a bushtit nest with babies. The parents remodeled the one in our orange tree that they used last year. I had put out some cotton stuffing from my pill container, and it was fashioned into a cozy lining to the door within a day...
last year the bushtits put two long pine needles under the door for a perch. The nest looked like an artist had fashioned it.
My husband set up a webcam so we can see the parents come and go.
Yes, we spend too much time watching them!
Joyce Miller

Anonymous said...

S.F., San Jose, CA
I have been graced to have a tiny birds reside in a tree next to my driveway for the past few years. The first time I noticed it there was in the winter of 2007 when all the leaves fell off the tree. Last year during a very bad storm it was knocked of the branch, that it was so skillfully attached for two years, at was only about 6 feet off the ground. I could not throw the nest away for some reason... maybe because of the beautiful workmanship in its weaving together of so many natural and man made items . Every time a child came over I would show them the nest to see and hear their curious looks and giggles. Then in the spring of 2009 on the very same spot another nest appeared. Neatly tucked in the dense foliage of leaves. To my delight they must like the location. On occasion I would listen to hear for any peeps to no avail..
So, winter came and these past few weeks have been heavy with wind and heavy storms. The pretty nest was getting batter everyday. So I thought before it gets destroyed by the weather, and since I work at a middle school. I decided to bring in the old nest and the new nest that is still attached to a clipping of the branch to the science teacher. The class and teacher were so excited about researching the nest for me as to what bird built it. They have the branch and nest hanging in the class room and plan on dissecting the older nest to discover it's contents and structure.
So here I am as a result of classes efforts they informed me that it is a Bushtit. Who was all along constructing such an wonderful nest. I look forward to this spring hoping to be grace another year of their wonder workmanship.

Anonymous said...

I recently found out from a local park naturalist and master birder that it's illegal to possess a bird's nest even if it's fallen out of a tree and onto the ground. Also, bushtits reuse their nests year after year so please do not remove them even when the nesting season is over otherwise they might not come back. (Plus it's not nice to steal a creature's house while they're away.)

Bryan said...

Tom, thanks for the info on these birds. I found a nest in my front yard in my Japanese Maple tree. At first I had no ieda what it was, but after watching the tree for a while I saw two small brown birds going in and out of it. So I did some internet searching and found your website and learned the names of these birds and a lot more. The nest is kind of hidden within a lot of small branches and as the maple leaves get bigger it is getting harder to see it. But this is a good thing, maybe the crows wont be able to see it. I hope they will continue to use this tree and nest for years to come.
Bryan, Washington.

Molly said...

Yesterday my cats knocked a bird's nest out of a low hanging hemlock branch in my backyard. I'd never seen such an interesting nest and I didn't know it was a bushtit nest until I did some internet searching. It was very low hanging, it must've been only 3-4 feet off of the ground. Anyways, of course I was horrified and barely slept all night thinking the babies were dead. Luckily they are not! Today I fashioned a new fangled McGyver nest by hot glue gunning the bushtit's nest to the front 'porch' of an old hanging birdhouse. I then hung it high up and out of the way in my cherry tree. Wish us luck - the adults are still feeding the babies and have been bringing them insects all day.

Molly D. Everett, WA

Anonymous said...

Riding our bicycles this morning on a local trail I spotted a small nest with a single baby bird chirping, hanging in a low hanging oak tree branch. Think it's a bushtit but the nest is not long, more round. The right habitat ... I can see the baby peering out at times. We live in the East Bay area of No. California. Thoughts?

Walter P. said...

By great luck, bushtits have built a nest just outside my study window, only 18" away, nestled in a bamboo grove. The nest is about 6' above ground and well-hidden enough to escape the crows. I've watched the parents-to-be work relentlessly at the construction for days, and now all's quiet as they incubate the eggs. I read that this phase lasts 10-13 days.

Anonymous said...

A bushtit nest is thriving four feet above the ground next to my concrete driveway. The nest is in a tree in the planter strip in front of my house in West Seattle.

I have recently seen glimpses of at least one baby bushtit in the entrance/exit for the nest.

Since the bushtit is a common bird, I finally decided to mow the planter strip as usual even though the bushtit nest was only four feet above the ground.

I thought the parents would continue to feed the babies. I was correct.

I have shown the bushtit nest to some bird-enthusiast neighbors, and they were all equally astonished at such an unusual bird nest four feet above the ground just a few feet away from the public sidewalk.

The nest is sorta camouflaged, though, because it sorta blends in with the tree.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting the amazing bushtit nest. To discourage people from cuting down these nests, I want to say that it can take up to 50 days for this complex nest to be built per the bird watching book I have. Also, the bushtits have been busily working on one in our backyard for over 21 days and are not yet near completion. They also re-use the nest and materials from their old nest. They work from sun-up to sundown along with foraging for food.

If you are lucky enough to find a nest, please take a photo like our blogger did and not the entire nest.