Birds – Golden-crowned Kinglet

(Regulus satrapa)


Length—4 to 4.25 inches. About two inches smaller than the English sparrow.

Male—Upper parts grayish olive-green ; wings and tail dusky, margined with olive-green. Underneath soiled whitish. Centre of crown bright orange, bordered by yellow and en-closed by black line. Cheeks gray ; a whitish line over the eye.

Female—Similar, but centre of crown lemon-yellow and more grayish underneath.

Range—North America generally. Breeds from northern United States northward. Winters chiefly from North Carolina to Central America, but many remain north all the year.

Migrations—September. April. Chiefly a winter resident south of Canada.

If this cheery little winter neighbor would keep quiet long enough, we might have a glimpse of the golden crest that distinguishes him from his equally lively cousin, the ruby-crowned ; but he is so constantly flitting about the ends of the twigs, peering at the bark for hidden insects, twinkling his wings and fluttering among the evergreens with more nervous restlessness than a vireo, that you may know him well before you have a glimpse of his tri-colored crown.

When the autumn foliage is all aglow with yellow and flame this tiny sprite comes out of the north, where neither nesting nor moulting could rob him of his cheerful spirits. Except the humming-bird and the winter wren, he is the smallest bird we have. And yet, somewhere stored up in his diminutive body, is warmth enough to withstand zero weather. With evident enjoyment of the cold, he calls out a shrill, wiry Zee, Zee, tee, that rings merrily from the pines and spruces when our fingers are too numb to hold the opera-glasses in an attempt to follow his restless flittings from branch to branch. Is it one of the unwritten laws of birds that the smaller their bodies the greater their activity ?

When you see one kinglet about, you may be sure there are others not far away, for, except in the nesting season, its habits are distinctly social, its friendliness extending to the humdrum brown creeper, the chickadees, and the nuthatches, in whose company it is often seen ; indeed, it is likely to be in almost any flock of the winter birds. They are a merry band as they go exploring the trees together. The kinglet can hang upside down, too, like the other acrobats, many of whose tricks he has learned ; and it can pick off insects from a tree with as business-like an air as the brown creeper, but with none of that soulless bird’s plodding precision.

In the early spring, just before this busy little sprite leaves us to nest in Canada or Labrador—for heat is the one thing that he can’t cheerfully endure—a gushing, lyrical song bursts from his tiny throat—a song whose volume is so out of proportion to the bird’s size that Nuttall’s classification of kinglets with wrens doesn’t seem far wrong after all.

Only rarely is a nest found so far south as the White Mountains. It is said to be extraordinarily large for so small a bird ; but that need not surprise us when we learn that as many as ten creamy-white eggs, blotched with brown and lavender, are no uncommon number for the pensile cradle to hold. How do the tiny parents contrive to cover so many eggs and to feed such a nestful of fledglings ?