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Sunday, January 1, 2017

King of the Ice

Golden-crowned kinglets are very busy birds. They seldom stop to absorb the warmth of the sun or pose for a photograph.

They are constantly searching for food.

It would seem logical to conclude this bird is picking seeds out of the western red cedar cones. 

Actually, I suspect it is searching among the cones for insects. 

Golden-crowned kinglets are primarily predators, even though they are similar in weight to a hummingbirds. This means the tiny creatures which they consume are minuscule.

If you look closely near the yellow stripe on top of this bird's head, you can see just a hint of reddish-orange. The orange or red coloring indicates the bird is male. The very small amount makes me suspect it is still fairly young.

This second male has a much more extensive red-orange stripe, which implies he is fully mature. 

After the leaves fall and the foliage thins, kinglets are somewhat easier to see. Plus, when it gets cold They seem to come down from the treetops and spend more time searching for food near my eye level. 

They search quickly. If you blink, they are gone. 

This bird is hanging upside down with its wings extended for takeoff. At the same time, its head has already turned right side up and he appears to be focused on his next meal.

At a few tenths of an ounce, even a clump of moss can hold a kinglet's weight while it searches for tiny mite-sized creatures.

In a spilt second the inspection is done.

Given a profile view it can be nearly impossible to tell a male from a female - unless he raises his reddish crest.

Sometimes just a hint of color shows through the yellow stripe. Birds of North America (See the citation below) also mentions that golden-crown kinglets have a single tiny feather which covers each nostril. I suppose this feather helps to retain body heat. So far, I have been unable to catch a close up of one of these tiny feathers.

It certainly gives me something to shoot for.

I do believe the tiny bit of fuzz at the end of this bird's beak is actually an insect, spider or mite. Imagine how many thousands of these tiny creatures he must eat to fuel his frenetic pace.

During this December, my most surprising kinglet encounter was in this marshy area near Elderberry Island. The tiny kinglet came down and began searching the frozen surface of the water.

Birds of North America (BNA) does mention that in the winter kinglets will eat a small amount of vegetable matter.

My best guess is that he is searching for tiny windblown seeds drifting across ice.

Even with the temperature below freezing, the kinglet jumps around the ice with its normal, frantic pace. BNA says these tiny birds can survive in weather as cold as -40 degrees centigrade.

Given their special and unique skills, I suppose a sunny winter afternoon is like a warm walk in the park to a golden-crowned kinglet.

Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature live in the city!


PS: David Zuckerman sent in a interesting update to last week's post. Scroll down to read the rest of last week's story.

On another note during yesterday's Christmas Bird Count a young, eagle-eyed bird counter spotted a coyote on Canoe Island, just south of the Union Bay Natural Area. Given the demise of the coyotes last summer it is nice to know there is at least one still with us. Go Canidae!

Recommended Citation

Swanson, David L., James L. Ingold and Robert Galati. (2012). Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa), The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America: https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/gockin


  1. Phenomenal pictures and notes. Thank you, Larry

  2. A good opportunity for close-up study of a diminutive, adorable bird. Thanks.

  3. Nice story and photos, Larry. I'm glad the kinglet didn't hop onto me after that sojourn on the ice!

    1. Dennis,
      Thank you. This post made me wonder if you have ever seen the tiny feather that covers the kinglet's nostril on one of your museum specimens?

  4. Wow! What fabulous photos!