A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


If you see a small, straggling flock of tiny grey birds in Sonoma County, chances are you're seeing Bushtits. Listen for their high-pitched chatter. The birds are often heard before they're seen. Common in woodland, coastal scrub, and suburban settings throughout the county. Flocks of five to about 40 birds are typical, although Bushtits pair off during the nesting season, when they make distinctive hanging nests (pictured at left--Spring Lake, April 8, 2013). Frequently seen flitting from tree to tree or through bushes in animated flocks foraging for small insects. Sometimes mix with other birds in flocks, especially during migration. 

Sexes similar, but females have pale yellow irises, males have dark eyes. Not likely to be confused with any other bird. Bushtit is our only very small, mostly grey, long-tailed bird. Although similarly grey, Oak Titmouse is larger and crested. Our Pacific Coast Bushtits differ slightly from birds seen in the interior by having a brown tinge, especially on the flanks and crown. The bird in the photo above is typical of the Pacific Coast race. The birds present in Sonoma County are often of this type, but not necessarily so. The bird in last picture on this page, for example, shows almost no brown at all.

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 91

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 345

Burridge, ed., Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995, p. 118

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 338

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, p. 378

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, pp. 471-472

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 432

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 281

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 337

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 294

Kaufman, Field Guide to Advanced Birding, 2011, pp. 111

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, pp. 204, 207-208

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 54

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 272

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 260

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 323

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 530

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 297

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Bushtit




© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


Female Bushtit: Note pale iris

For comparison: Oak Titmouse.

Note crest (although this rain-bedraggled bird is holding its crest down),

heavier bill, proportionately large eye

Female Bushtit collecting nesting material

Spring Lake, Santa Rosa

Bushtit (male), Arroyo Sierra Dr., Santa Rosa, April 5, 2011

Male Bushtit, Spring Lake, Santa Rosa, November 7, 2012


Psaltriparus minimus

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated May 30, 2013

EBird reported occurrence in Sonoma County