Golden-crowned Kinglets in a Dispute

A few days ago, an oak tree on the side of the road sounded as if it were full of Golden-crowned Kinglets, making calls that sounded more shrill and louder than usual. That day I didn’t have binoculars with me – but today when I heard the same unusual calls coming from the same tree, I did.

What I saw high up in the branches were, indeed, several small birds, but the loud, shrill calls seemed to be coming mostly, if not entirely, from just two tiny Golden-crowned Kinglets that appeared to be in a dispute. They stood very close to each other on a branch, with their crowns erected into fluffy golden crests, and behavior that looked fiercely aggressive, with wings flicking, heads lowered, and the tiny birds hopping up and down. One of them seemed to be trying to chase the other away. Their fussing calls were very shrill, piercing and sustained – quite different from the kinglets’ usual quiet ti-ti-ti.

This behavior continued for several minutes, as the two kinglets moved along the branches from one spot to another, but they didn’t move far and did not fly away to another tree. A third Golden-crowned Kinglet flitted near these two and sometimes came close to them, but it didn’t interfere. At least one Ruby-crowned Kinglet and one Carolina Chickadee were foraging nearby in the same tree, and there were other small birds too high up for me to see well.

Golden-crowned Kinglet males are known to be territorial and combative during nesting season, but during the winter season they become more sociable and often move in feeding flocks with other kinglets and small songbirds like Chickadees and Titmice.

It might be unusual to see a confrontation between two kinglets at this time of year, but it doesn’t seem hard to believe that territorial disputes might arise now and then, even outside of nesting season. But it was something I’ve never seen before. Even more interesting, perhaps, was the fact that the same aggressive behavior between two Golden-crowned Kinglets seemed to have happened on two different days, in this same tree.

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