Friday, April 20, 2012

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

What: Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula).

Identification: The Ruby-crowned Kinglet is one of the smallest songbirds in North America, weighing only 5-10g (0.2 - 0.4 oz). Its distinguishing characteristics are the wing bars and olive & yellow coloring on its wing tips and backside. The ruby crown that the males wear is hard to see until a male dips its head, and even more rare is when it sticks up the crest like a bright red mohawk. The song is challenging to describe, as it is a jumble of notes; it often begins with 2-3 high pitch "tsees," followed by 5-6 low "tur" notes, and ends with ending with a repeated "tee-da-lett!"

Where: Centennial Woods

Ecological Notes: Ruby-crowned Kinglets can be found as a year-long resident throughout Southern New England, but will come up to mixed woods forests of Northern New England and Canada for breeding. We won't find their nests unless we scale 100-foot tall trees, but they are known to make nests that are quite large compared to their body size, in order to accommodate a large clutch.  Its small, thin bill is indicative of its feeding habits on small insects, but it will also forage lower in the forest on fruits and seeds in the late autumn and winter.

Other Notes: These tiny songbirds are feisty and hard to track, hopping from tree to tree with such alacrity. I went through dozens of worthless, blurred photos before I could capture one in its fleeting stillness. Teage and I began our morning walk being prompted by a mentor of ours who knew the call right away. The rest of the morning, we trailed several kinglets until we made it past the power line clearing, where they came down to just above eye level, and we finally got a good look at the male's fire red crest.


  1. Ruby-crowned kinglet was a significant “player” in the book Winter World: The ingenuity of animal survival by Bernd Heinrich; you may know that he teaches a course Winter Ecology. John Burroughs writes about this bird “How does the Ruby-crowned Kinglet know that he has a brilliant bit of color on his crown which he can uncover at will, and that has great charm for the female? … My ear was attracted by the fine, shrill lisping and piping of a a small band of these birds in an apple-tree…There were four or five of them, all more or less excited, and two of them especially so. I think the excitement of the others was only a reflection of these two. …the two birds were entirely occupied with each other. They behaved exactly as if they were comparing crowns, and each extolling his own.” Burroughs is always interesting in how he presents his observations of the natural world.

    1. Burroughs is such a beautiful writer - certainly captures that fleeting moment of magic when we are able to glimpse into the frenetic world of kinglets.

  2. I agree with the sentiment on both Burroughs' words and the frenetic energy of those kinglets. As for Bernd's take on it - it is fascinating, and I loved taking his Winter Ecology class, he is a gem. I have been trying to happen upon these little fellows again, but to no avail as of yet.