Birds – Ruby-crowned Kinglet

(Regulus calendula)


Length—4.25 to 4.5 inches. About two inches smaller than the English sparrow.

Male—Upper parts grayish olive-green, brighter nearer the tail; wings and tail dusky, edged with yellowish olive. Two whitish wing-bars. Breast and underneath light yellowish gray. In the adult male a vermilion spot on crown of his ash-gray head.

Female—Similar, but without the vermilion crest.

Range—North America. Breeds from northern United States northward. Winters from southern limits of its breeding range to Central America and Mexico.

Migrations—October. April. Rarely a winter resident at the North. Most common during its migrations.

A trifle larger than the golden-crowned kinglet, with a vermilion crest instead of a yellow and flame one, and with a decided preference for a warmer winter climate, and the ruby-crown’s chief distinguishing characteristics are told. These rather confusing relatives would be less puzzling if it were the habit of either to keep quiet long enough to focus the opera-glasses on their crowns, which it only rarely is while some particularly promising haunt of insects that lurk beneath the rough bark of the ever-greens has to be thoroughly explored. At all other times both kinglets keep up an incessant fluttering and twinkling among the twigs and leaves at the ends of the branches, jerking their tiny bodies from twig to twig in the shrubbery, hanging head downward, like a nuthatch, and most industriously feeding every second upon the tiny insects and larvae hidden beneath the bark and leaves. They seem to be the feathered expression of perpetual motion. And how dainty and charming these tiny sprites are! They are not at all shy; you may approach them quite close if you will, for the birds are simply too intent on their business to be concerned with yours.

If a sharp lookout be kept for these ruby-crowned migrants, that too often slip away to the south before we know they have come, we notice that they appear about a fortnight ahead of the golden-crested species, since the mild, soft air of our Indian summer is exactly to their liking. At this season there is nothing in the bird’s “thin, metallic call-note, like a vibrating wire,” to indicate that he is one of our finest songsters. But listen for him during the spring migration, when a love-song is already ripening in his tiny throat. What a volume of rich, lyrical melody pours from the Norway spruce, where the little musician is simply practising to perfect the richer, fuller song that he sings to his nesting mate in the far north! The volume is really tremendous, coming from so tiny a throat. Those who have heard it in northern Canada describe it as a flute-like and mellow warble full of intricate phrases past the imitating. Dr. Coues says of it: ” The kinglet’s exquisite vocalization defies description.”

Curiously enough, the nest of this bird, that is not at all rare, has been discovered only six times. It would appear to be over-large for the tiny bird, until we remember that kinglets are wont to have a numerous progeny in their pensile, globular home. It is made of light, flimsy material—moss, strips of bark, and plant fibre well knit together and cosily lined with feathers, which must be a grateful addition to the babies, where they are reared in evergreens in cold, northern woods.