A Good Year for Golden-crowned Kinglets

Late this morning, two Golden-crowned Kinglets foraged in the pines and oaks around our house, close enough for me to watch them for several minutes. Tiny birds with a round shape and faces vividly striped in black and white, and a yellow-gold crown on the top of the head, they look like little animated ornaments moving through the trees – and make high-pitched, wintery music with their ti-ti-ti calls and chatter.

Because they’re so small and move so quickly and constantly – and because there are years when we don’t see many of them at all – I think of them as somewhat elusive. They breed in forests of spruce and other conifers in more northern parts of North America, and migrate here for the winter, when sometimes we see a good many of them, and other years few. This seems to be a good year for them here, and I’m discovering that they’re not at all shy.

These two moved over the branches, quickly picking up something like tiny insects or spiders from clusters of pine needles or dry brown and green leaves still on the oaks, turning sideways and upside down, and once or twice darting up to capture an insect in the air. The day was fairly warm – sunny, breezy and in the lower 60s – but we’ve had several freezing nights this week, and most of the foliage, except for the pines and other evergreens, is withered and faded. So the Kinglets bring a welcome splash of color.

Late this afternoon I was standing on the front porch when I heard them in the dry, speckled leaves of a water oak overhead. Then I noticed one making its way through the branches of a Savannah holly not more than five feet away from me. It hopped all the way out to the very end of a branch near me and paused there, as if checking me out, turning its head sharply back and forth, then it flitted down and joined a Titmouse and a Chickadee on the rim of a birdbath, which both seemed as surprised as I was to see it.

Even though the Kinglet only paused there for one or two seconds at most, the three birds together made a priceless picture – both the Titmouse and Chickadee, looking huge next to the Kinglet, turned to look at it as if to say, “What do you think you’re doing here?” And though neither of them made a move toward the smaller bird, the Kinglet quickly seemed to think better of it and flew back up to a branch of the oak.

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