For the Birds: Kinglets

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Photo by Doug Parrott
By Christine Southwick

What’s olive-green, has a crown patch, is constantly moving, and is only a little larger than our North American hummingbirds? If you said kinglets, you were right.

This area has both Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Golden-crowned Kinglets.

Golden-crowned have a striped face pattern. The Ruby-crowned has a plain face with a bold white eye-ring. Golden-crowned: both male and female have erectable yellow crowns, and males have an orange stripe in the center. 

Ruby-crowned: only the males have the usually hidden, erectable red crown. Both kinglets have two white wing bars, with a black smudge below the second bar. Did you know that both kinglets have black legs and yellow feet? Because they are so small, and flit around looking for their bug meals, that field mark isn’t always easy to see.

Red-crowned Kinglet with crest raised by Scott Ramos
Ruby-crowned Kinglets are often found with other small birds during winter, but are most obvious in the spring and fall when they migrate to/ from their higher elevation breeding grounds. While migrating they often search for bugs on lower branches than the rest of the year. During March-April, I listen for a “Cheebe cheebe che “ “Cheebe che”,

“Cheebe cheebe che “ “Cheebe che”.

This is what the Ruby–crowned call sounds like to me. The Golden-crowned Kinglets have a high-pitched single note, repeated. Listen to a CD of local birds, and create a reminder that makes sense to you, and you’ll be more likely to recognize the bird when you hear it.

The Golden–crowned Kinglets are year-round residents here, but because they stay high in the conifers, they are often overlooked during summer. In the winter they also forage lower, and this winter there were many reports of them feeding on the ground, perhaps seeking spiders in leaf litter.

Gold-crowned Kinglet. Photo by Craig Kerns
Both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets are seasonally monogamous. Both species build their nests in tall trees, usually conifers, anywhere from 40-100 feet above the ground. Little is actually known about their nesting habits. These kinglets lay an unusually large number of eggs for their size, from 5-12 eggs. Large broods usually mean that there is high mortality. It is believed that most of the deaths are from exposure to cold temperature, although Golden-crowneds can tolerate temperatures of minus 30 F for short periods of time.

So, listen for the songs of these two kinglets. Usually you will hear a kinglet before you see it. Then look for a tiny bird flicking its wings, and a quick fluttery flight.

Christine Southwick is on the Board of the Puget Sound Bird Observatory and is their Winter Urban Color-banding Project Manager. She is a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat Steward, having completed their forty hour class. We're happy that she's sharing her expertise with us about the birds in our backyards.

1 comments:

Avosetta May 1, 2011 at 7:06 PM  

Wonderful article! Shoreline is lucky to you have an expert in their midst and should look forward to further such species profiles.

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