Winter is a great time to dress warmly and head off for a walk.
Most of the migratory birds have reached their winter feeding grounds and you just never know what you might see.
Each year, many species of birds escape their northern breeding grounds travelling south to their same feeding grounds; some of the migrants have had to adapt as their feeding grounds have changed and no longer provide a food source.
One species that has adapted are the kinglets; some populations of these birds were in decline, but the emergence of Christmas tree farms in the northeast of North America provided them with a new source of food. In B.C., kinglets are blue, which means they are a species at risk.
Kinglets are small hyperactive insectivore’s part of the family of birds that includes the gnatcatchers and warblers. Once they were all thought to be of the same family but kinglets were then assigned their own family known as “Regulidae.”
There are two species of kinglet, the golden-crowned and the ruby-crowned. The ruby-crowned is more secretive and tends to live a solitary existence; golden-crowned are much more sociable and they are normally seen in small foraging flocks often on the ground.
The ruby-crowned kinglet is slightly larger than the golden measuring four and a half inches from tail to a straight short bill tip. These diminutive birds weigh a mere seven grams.
As is the case with most bird species, the male is more striking; it has a concealed scarlet red crown patch that can be seen when the bird becomes excited elevating the feathers on the top of its head. Females do not have this crown patch.
The body feathers of the male are olive-grey whereas the female is mostly grey; both sexes have distinct white circles around the eyes. Golden-crowned kinglets’ have white eyebrows.
Kinglets by nature are very active and have a nervous habit of “twitching” their wings.
Kinglet habitat includes coniferous and lowland deciduous forests but they are also seen in orchards, urban and mixed forests. Most golden crowned kinglets’ can withstand winter temperatures reaching minus 30 degrees, but most ruby-crowned kinglets will migrate south to the southern United States or Mexico.
These tiny birds are almost exclusively insectivores, consuming a variety of insects and their eggs, beetles and spiders; their diet also includes tree sap, fruit and occasionally seeds but ruby-crowned kinglets are rarely seen at a feeder.
Ruby crowned kinglets can be seen diligently searching every nook and cranny on a branch to find insects or they glean the bugs from the underside of leaves; they will also dart out from cover and hover in the air before catching an insect on the wing.
Although found in a variety of habitats the ruby-crowned kinglet prefers spruce trees for nesting. They construct tiny nests only four inches in diameter; they are globular in shape and are somewhat flattened on the top where the opening is situated.
Constructed mainly from mosses and lichens, the nest is then bound together with spider’s webs; just like the hummingbirds these expandable nests grow with the newly hatched babies. Nest locations are well camouflaged and are often suspended from the end of a branch, or are hidden amongst cones.
Ruby crowned kinglets produce between five and 11 eggs, which they incubate for 12 days. The young are ready to fledge within the next 12 days.
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Sandy Fairfield is the educational co-ordinator for the Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society (MARS). The MARS column appears every second Thursday.