Sunday, November 1, 2009

Golden-crowned Kinglet

It's been a great fall for Golden-crowned Kinglets. They must have fared well on their boreal breeding grounds, as I've seen - and heard - as many or more this season as I ever have. Anywhere that some trees, shrubbery, or especially conifers are found, you're likely to hear the thin lispy tsee tsee tsee of kinglets. Just the other day, I was in the heart of Columbus's interurban concrete jungle, with scarcely a tree to be seen, other than a spindly ornamental Norway Spruce. And there they were - a kindling of kinglets, working the branches.

Unfortunately, not all songbirds survive their peregrinations. My brother Mike found this golden-crown shortly after it plowed into a window. It probably broke its neck, as often is the case with window-crashers. But, before it becomes a museum specimen, we can have a good look.

The ruler reveals the truly diminutive size of this species. Kinglets - both Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned - are only about 3 3/4 inches long. That makes them among North America's smallest songbirds. Small, but tough.

Our specimen is a male, as evidenced by the rich orange crown stripe. In females, this patch is entirely yellow.

Because kinglets are so tiny, and in perpetual motion, one often does not get great looks at their topknots. When seen well, these flaming stripes are majestic, and make a good look an ooh and aah moment. It's as if Jesse James painted flames on their noggins, like on the gas tank of an outlaw Harley.

Kinglets are chronically inquisitive, however, and if you desire a better view, just start making squeaking and pishing sounds. Sure, you'll look and sound like a major weirdo, but the birds will often approach you within ten feet. Hey, the opportunity to study weirdos is irresistable, even for kinglets!

Chances are, when they do come over to check you out, they'll be mad. You've probably got little to fear in the way of bodily harm from these six gram brutes, but they may well have their crown stripes fluffed so you can see the colors.
A closeup of the primary feathers, richly edged in lime-olive green, if such a color exists. Kinglet wings provide an excellent long-range field mark. They habitually flick them in a very distinctive manner, and this trait allows a kinglet to be recognized about as far away as you can see the bird.

A truly teensy bill; sure sign that our subject is an insect-eater. And that they are, along with arachnids and other small invertebrates. In the warmer months, kinglets probably dine exclusively on animal matter. They may add just a bit of plant material, miniscule seeds, mostly, in winter.

Kinglets are extremely efficient at ferreting out animal life that you and I would probably never see or even know existed. Golden-crowneds find enough food to easily handle northern winters, in snowy cold landscapes in which it wouldn't seem that any any insect life was there for the plucking.

The orange depicts the winter range of the Golden-crowned Kinglet. No sissy, this feathered pipsqueak. They routinely overwinter in Ohio and such northern latitudes, and even to the north of us. The green and blue colors denote breeding range. Interestingly, Golden-crowned Kinglets have been expanding southward as breeders, occupying mature stands of planted spruce. Ohio has a number of breeding records, but the first was not until 1962. However, it wasn't until 1989 till we had our next breeding record, but since then they've become very rare but regular nsters.

This is the range map of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet. While superficially similar, these two kinglets differ in many ways, including winter hardiness. While Golden-crowneds are common here in winter, Ruby-crowneds are quite rare. Perhaps this means that GC's are more adept at finding food in cold weather, and perhaps are just physiologically tougher and better able to cope with winter weather.

Next time you are around some big spruce trees, take time to look and listen for Golden-crowned Kinglets. They're almost certain to be there, and a kinglet in the branches is far better than a kinglet in the hand.


Heather said...

These little cuties have been abundant in our corner of southeast Ohio recently. I've never seen/heard them so consistently before. And I'm seeing them in places that are very light on conifers. The warmer days recently have really brought out the bugs, though, so I'm sure they are happy for that, no matter what kind of woods they are in!

Tricia said...

Great post, that's the best look most of us will probably ever get of the beautiful crown on a kinglet, they are very common in my area in winter but the fleeting glimpses one gets of their most colorful parts does not do justice to what is really there, WOW!

Cathy said...

Such dear little birds. About those window strikes: my hubby and I go round and round on the stickers and old dog leashes that obscure his unobstructed view of the beautiful countryside here in central Ohio.

But . . I know I'm saving lives.

OpposableChums said...

Record Kinglets here in NYC, too, flitting like butterflies along the Hudson River shore.

Excellent and informative pix. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Monday there was a large flock GC Kinglets on the breakwall at Headlands. They would come within a couple of feet of someone sitting there. It was quite a sight.

Dave Lewis said...

This has definately been the biggest year for Kinglets for us! Not to mention getting to hold them at the BSBO bird banding station!