110005aOne of the most common bird identification questions we answer here at the Bird Barn has to do with small gray birds that can be seen swarming suet feeders. What are those little gray birds?

They are bushtits. In the Sibley Guide to Birds, author and illustrator David Sibley describes bushtits this way: “a disheveled-looking, long-tailed ball of fluff seen in lively, chattering flocks.” If you are familiar with bushtits, I am sure you are as amused by this description as I am.

Bushtits are a common, year-round resident in this area and are found throughout a large portion of western North America including Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California, Oregon and Washington. In our area, their preferred habitat is oak-chaparral and pinyon-juniper, where they actively glean in the foliage of trees and shrubs looking for insects and insect eggs and larvae.

Bushtits are very small. Even though they are listed in field guides as being 4.5 inches long, that measurement is deceptive as about half of their length is their tail. If one subtracts the length of their tail, they really are a very small bird. Weight-wise they weigh in at a mere 5.3 grams, making them only one gram heavier than an Anna’s hummingbird!

If you have a suet feeder in your yard, you have invariably witnessed the spectacle of bushtits coming in to feed – it could be a scene right out of the movie “The Birds” if they weren’t so small. Thank heavens they are small. Think how terrifying they would be if they were big like a raven or a hawk!

This week I snapped several pictures of a flock of bushtits at a suet feeder. As near as I can count (it is hard to count bushtits) there were at least 15 on the feeder at the same time – possibly more – as I couldn’t see the backside of the feeder. They are remarkably tame. I was no more than two to three feet away from the feeder when I took the pictures. They are so small; they must figure they wouldn’t be a very good meal for any predator!

As summer winds down, it is time to start talking about the annual wild bird photo contest that we host each year here at Jay’s Bird Barn. You may submit entries from Saturday, Sept. 1 through Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012. For more information on the rules and guidelines, you may pick up a flier at the store or visit our website at www.jaysbirdbarn.com.

We will also be resuming our free weekly bird walks the first week of September. The walks will start at 7 a.m., beginning and ending at the store on Willow Creek Road. In October, we will push back the start time to 7:30 a.m. due to shorter days.

If you are interested in going on any of the guided bird walks, please call the Prescott store (443-5900) to sign up. All the information on the upcoming bird walks – including the dates, where we are going, and who is leading each bird walk – is available on the Jay’s Bird Barn website. Each walk is limited to just 12 participants.