Category Archives: Kinglets

Tiny kinglets brighten  the bleakest of seasons

Photo from Pixabay.com • Only the male ruby-crowned kinglet shows the red crown patch. In almost every other way, females are identical in appearance.

On one of our recent frosty mornings, the chickadees, the wrens, the titmice and other small birds were chattering and chirping in tree branches around my feeders. As I paused a moment to watch their antics, I noticed a tiny grayish bird that flashed a patch of ruby red feathers as it flitted among the branches.

The visitor turned out to be a ruby-crowned kinglet, one of North America’s smallest bird. This tiny bird is typically about four inches long and doesn’t even weigh half an ounce. How is it that one of the smallest North American birds chooses to spend the harsh cold months of winter in our yards and gardens?

Chickadees, titmice and other familiar winter birds eke out an existence by supplementing some their diet with fare from bird feeders. Although kinglets often associate with roaming mixed species flocks, they’re rarely interested in the offerings at our feeders. The kinglets are dedicated to gleaning tiny insects and spiders, as well as insects eggs and larvae, from branches and plantings in our yards. They’re so successful at it that they don’t need to turn to even a well-stocked feeder. A kinglet will on occasion sample an offering of suet or peanut butter, but this bird doesn’t make a habit of visiting feeders.

Since mid-October, I’ve been seeing a few golden-crowned kinglets, as well as the closely related ruby-crowned kinglet, at my home. Both the golden-crowned and ruby-crowned kinglets are members of a family of diminutive birds known collectively as kinglets and firecrests. They’re such tiny, energetic bundles of feathers that they absolutely excel with the “cuteness” factor.

All kinglets are very small birds, as well as extremely active ones. The ruby-crowned and golden-crowned are also the only members of this family of birds found in North America. Four other species, however, are native to Europe, Asia and North Africa. The remaining species include goldcrest, common firecrest, Madeira firecrest and flamecrest, which is also known as the Taiwan firecrest.

Photo Courtesy of Beth McPherson • A golden-crowned kinglet survived an impact with a window pane.

Kinglets, as their name suggests, are such tiny birds that about the only North American birds smaller than kinglets are some of the hummingbirds. The kinglets belong to the family, Regulidae, and the genus, Regulus. The family and genus names are derived from a Latin word, regulus, which means “rex,”or “king” The name was apparently inspired by the colorful crown patches, often red, orange or gold, that resemble the royal “crowns” of kings.

Although similar in size and overall coloration, the ruby-crowned and golden-crowned kinglets are easily distinguished from each other. Side by side, the two species of North American kinglets are easy to identify. The golden-crowned kinglet has a striped facial pattern formed by bold black and white stripes. The ruby-crowned kinglet, on the other hand, has a bold white eye ring but no striping. The golden-crowned kinglet has an orange crown patch, while the ruby-crowned kinglet has a red crown patch that is, more often than not, kept concealed. Both sexes of the golden-crowned kinglet possess a yellow crown patch, but only the male ruby-crowned kinglet boasts a scarlet patch of feather atop the head.

Kinglets are active birds, foraging vigorously for small insects, and spiders. When foraging, both kinglet species have a habit of flicking their wings over the backs. Even if you can’t get a good look at the birds, this behavior helps contrast them from other small birds, including some warblers, wrens and the blue-gray gnatcatcher. They’re often curious birds and can be coaxed into a closer approach if a human observer make squeaking noises to attract their attention.

Golden-crowned kinglets are widespread in the region during the winter. During the summer months, head to the slopes of some of the region’s higher mountains to look for these tiny birds that nest at the higher elevations of the Southern Appalachians. Ruby-crowned kinglets can also be found in the region during the winter, but extreme cold weather will often force this less cold-hardy species to eke out the winter months farther south.

On a January visit to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, about 20 years ago, I chanced into what must have been a winter invasion of the Low Country by ruby-crowned kinglets. These tiny birds were extremely abundant at every location I visited.

In summer, ruby-crowned kinglets are absent from the region due to their preference for nesting much farther north in spruce-fir forests in the northwestern United States and across Canada.

Kinglets are surprisingly tame at times and often exhibit as much curiosity about us as we display toward them. They’re very active birds, however, constantly moving from perch to perch. These bursts of hyperactivity can make them difficult to observe since they so rarely remain still. Although small in size, these birds more than compensate for it with a feisty spirit that does them well through the harsher weather of the winter months.

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Looking for a beautiful Christmas gift for the bird enthusiast on your shopping list? Members of the Elizabethton Bird Club are selling a professionally-produced calendar that features dozens of full-color photographs and an informative and educational grid. These calendars sell for $15 plus $2 for shipping. All sales help the club fund birding programs, public park feeders, conservation efforts and other activities in upper Northeast Tennessee.

For more information on how to obtain a calendar, email me at ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

Kinglets are energetic sprites among our feathered friends

Beth-Golden-crownKinglet

Photo by Elizabeth McPherson • This Golden-crowned Kinglet recovered after striking a window.

There are many different ways to become more familiar with the backyard birds at your own home. I’m fond of keeping a year list of all the bird species that travel through the yard and garden at my home. Keeping such a list is a great way to document the seasonal comings and goings of the bird life in your own neighborhood. You may be surprised at what you see.

Patricia Werth, a resident of Abingdon, Virginia, sent me an email to share the results of her year of counting birds in her yard.

“I told you at the beginning of 2016 I was going to list all the birds that come to my feeder or are in our yard,” she wrote. “I counted 29, but I just saw a very small bird that resembled the goldfinch, except smaller and more greenish on the back. Was that a warbler? I am not very good differentiating between sparrows, either.”

She was pleased with her 2016 results, but she wanted some suggestions for identifying the unknown bird. Based on her description of the bird’s small size and greenish coloration on the back, I suggested she do some online research into kinglets.

I received a second email from Patricia thanking me for the suggestion. “After looking up the kinglets, I do believe it was the female golden-crowned kinglet,” she wrote, adding that she was certain that she had seen her before.

Jean-Golden-crownKinglet

Photo by Jean Potter • This Golden-crowned Kinglet was captured and banded as part of an ornithological study.

The identification of the golden-crowned kinglet took her total to 30 species. “Seeing that they (kinglets) rarely eat seeds that was a real treat to have them visit,” Patricia wrote. “I believe I have heard them call, too, but thought it was a chickadee, as they are so vocal.”

Her year’s already off to a good start with goldfinches at her feeders. With the recent snowfall, she also saw her first dark-eyed junco of the year. When it comes to size, however, few of the birds that patronize our feeders are as diminutive in size as the kinglets.

rubycrownkinglet

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/Donna Dewhurst • The ruby-crowned kinglet, pictured, and golden-crowned kinglet are among North America’s smallest birds. Both species are occasional winter visitors in the region. The birds are named for bright crown patches that contrast with their overall drab appearance.

As their name suggests, kinglets are tiny birds. In fact, about the only North American birds smaller than kinglets are some of the hummingbirds. The kinglets, known outside North America as “flamecrests” or “firecrests,” belong to the family, Regulidae, and the genus, Regulus. The family and genus names are derived from a Latin word, regulus, which means “rex,” or “king.” The name was apparently inspired by the colorful crown patches, often red, orange or gold, that resemble the royal “crowns” of kings. In addition to the two North American species, four other species of kinglets can be found in North Africa, Europe and Asia.

john-james-audubon-ruby-crowned-kinglet-1-male-2-female-kalmia-augustifolia

Early American naturalist and artist painted this pair of Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

Although similar in size and overall coloration, the ruby-crowned and golden-crowned kinglets are easily distinguished from each other. Side by side, the two species of North American kinglets are easy to identify. The golden-crowned kinglet has a striped facial pattern formed by bold black and white stripes. The ruby-crowned kinglet, on the other hand, has a bold white eye ring but no striping. The golden-crowned kinglet has an orange crown patch, while the ruby-crowned kinglet has a red crown patch that is, more often than not, kept concealed. Both sexes of the golden-crowned kinglet possess a yellow crown patch, but only the male ruby-crowned kinglet boasts a scarlet patch of feathers atop the head. Observers can expend a lot of energy trying to get a look at the crown patches, which are typically only displayed when the bird is agitated.

Kinglets are very active birds. If warblers can be described as energetic, the kinglets are downright frenetic in their activities. The kinglets almost never pause for long, flitting from branch to branch in trees and shrubs as they constantly flick their wings over their backs.  These bursts of hyperactivity can make them difficult to observe. Although small in size, these birds more than compensate for it with a feisty spirit that does them well through the harsh winter months.

cuviers_regulus

John James Audubon painted this depiction of a bird he referred to as Cuvier’s Kinglet in the early 1700s. No other person has ever encountered a bird matching this description.

Kinglets often join mixed flocks comprised of other species of birds, some of which are regular feeder visitors. Perhaps by observing their flock counterparts, some kinglets have learned to accept feeder fare such as suet, meal worms and chopped nuts. Away from feeders, kinglets mostly feed on a range of small insects and arachnids. These tiny birds will also consume some fruit, such as the berries of poison oaks and dogwoods.

Normally, kinglets have a rather fleeting lifespan. These tiny birds can be considered old if they live three or four years. There are always exceptions.  The oldest golden-crowned kinglet on record was six years and four months old. That individual, a male, was documented by a bird bander in 1976, according to the website All About Birds.

Overall, kinglets are trusting, tame birds and a welcome addition to any flocks visiting your yard and garden. These tiny feathered sprites are definitely worth getting to know.

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The Bristol Bird Club will conduct a birding trip of Burke’s Garden, Virginia, on Saturday, Feb. 11. Red-headed woodpecker, a relative of the Northern flicker, is among the target birds. Other possible birds will include golden eagles, rough-legged hawks, horned larks and a pair of bald eagles on a nesting site located in the beautiful, bowl-like valley of Burke’s Garden.e80948b8-92fa-44d2-b107-d9223014aff0_d

Participants should plan to meet by 8 a.m. at the Hardee’s at 900 E. Fincastle St. in Tazewell, Virginia. Arrive early and enjoy breakfast. Attendees will carpool to Burke’s Garden. Those making the trip might also glimpse alpacas and a camel. Bring a bit of cash if you would like to enjoy a soup and sandwich lunch at the Amish Store. For more information on this trip, call Kevin Blaylock at (423) 943-5841.

I visited Burke’s Garden for the first time almost 20 years ago on one of these February field trips. It was quite the memorable birding experience and yielded me my first-ever sightings of rough-legged hawk and common goldeneye.