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Friday, February 3, 2012

The whites of her eyes

This is one of my favorite year-round residents of Bodega Head — the Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus).  There are so many interesting things about Bushtits that it's difficult to choose what to share in a short post.  Here are a few fun facts about them interspersed between photos taken on 2 February 2012.

- Bushtits are the only New World representative of the Long-tailed Tit Family; their ancestors are thought to have crossed the Bering land bridge 10-12 million years ago

- Adults are sexually dimorphic (males and females appear physically different from each other) —  Bushtit males have dark eyes and females have white eyes (you can practice identifying males/females by their iris colors in the photos below)

 The subspecies present in our area has a subtle brown crown.

Below, look at the extremely long toes (ideal for hanging from leaves and small branches)!  Also note the slightly decurved (downward curved) bill.

 - Bushtits are foliage-gleaning specialists — gathering spiders and small insects from vegetation, often feeding while hanging upside down

 - Bushtits build complicated, pendulous gourd-shaped nests with a small opening

 - They're one of the first birds in which nest supernumeraries (there's that word again!) were described — helpers at the nest beyond the breeding pair (although this behavior is apparently not as common in California)

- In colder parts of their range, individuals huddle together for warmth (up to 14 individuals have been found in one nest!) 

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