[midvalleybirds] Bushtit spiderweb rescue

Lisa Millbank millbank.lisa at gmail.com
Thu Mar 19 11:50:24 PDT 2020

 A pair of Bushtits is building a nest somewhere nearby, but I haven't
found it yet.  For the past several days, they've been searching for
spiderwebs, both along the foundation of our house and under the eaves.

This morning, the female had gathered a nice ball of silk which she seemed
to be trying to arrange for transport back to the nest.  As always, her
mate was close by, but he hadn't been as successful in finding spiderweb.
The female got the spiderweb looped around one of her legs and couldn't get
herself free.  She became increasingly distressed as she pulled on the silk
to no avail.

The male came to her side quickly, not knowing why she was panicking.  He
flicked his wings and tail rapidly and appeared very upset as he watched
her closely for a moment.  Then he grabbed the offending silk and pulled on
it, and she was able to work her foot out of the tangle.  It was a relief
to see the two of them flitting away together.  I posted some photos here
although the silk is a bit harder to see in the last photo.

Incidents like this might happen fairly often when Bushtits are collecting
spiderwebs and long, tangled pieces of lichen.  I wasn't sure whether the
male had actually solved the problem of what action he needed to take to
help her, or maybe it was more of an instinctive response.  If it's common
for nest-building Bushtits to have similar issues with nest material, maybe
a mate's struggle with nest material simply stimulates the other bird to
try pulling on the material, without having to analyze exactly what's wrong
and how to fix the problem.  Bushtits are clever little birds with strong
social bonds and emotions, and I'm not trying to demean their
intelligence.  But natural selection often comes up with simple cues and
responses that work pretty well most of the time, and I wonder if that's
what was happening here.  I really don't know, but I hope we'll see a new
batch of little Bushtit-lings a few months from now!

Lisa Millbank

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