Little brown birds (lbbs) are often impediments to beginning birders’ ascent up the learning curve of bird identification. Many lbbs are sparrows, and too many sparrows look alike, especially in immature plumages.
Other lbbs are simply non-descript, as much gray as brown, and difficult to identify chiefly because they lack distinguishing marks or bold colors. Those who learn to recognize these inconspicuous little creatures are rewarded by the opportunity to enjoy their surprisingly distinct characters and behavior.
Among the most common of these drab little birds is the tiny Bushtit, a little-noticed year-round resident of our San Joaquin Valley.
Barely four inches long and weighing in at around a fifth of an ounce, Bushtits make up for their lack of color with perpetual motion and flocking behavior. In the fall and winter months, the usual first indication of Bushtits is a rustling of leaves accompanied by a soft chittering. On closer inspection, the rustling of the leaves is caused by a busy flock of tiny gray birds busily gleaning insects.
Numbering anywhere between eight and fifty birds, Bushtits gather in a busy swarm, frequently hanging upside down to gain the best possible angle for feeding. They often move in concert from one tree to another, seemingly blown by a soft breeze from place to place.
Once a nature lover gets to know them, Bushtits are always a welcome presence. Despite their drab coloration, they have an uncanny ability to brighten a dreary winter day or add verve and enthusiasm to a summer outing. Expect them almost anywhere there are trees and large shrubs.