Friday, October 21, 2016

Ruby-crowned Kinglet: An Inquisitive Winter Visitor

The Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) is a treat for anyone with the good fortune to spot one and the patience to track its movements through the trees for any length of time, for these tasks can be difficult!

The first thing you will notice about the Ruby-crowned Kinglet when you do finally spot one is that they hardly ever sit still!  Scarcely larger than a hummingbird, Ruby-crowned Kinglets overflow with energy, flitting amongst branches, darting in and out of sight with agility and speed that is frustrating for the birder, and even more frustrating for the photographer!
A brief moment with a Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula).  Note the bright white wing bars.
But once you become acquainted with the Ruby-crowned Kinglet, you will be charmed.  These birds can be recognized first by their tiny size; when identifying a kinglet, you may be able to eliminate the hummingbird and narrow down your options to bushtits, titmice, or kinglets.  Few other birds are so tiny.  Large eyes, accentuated by white eye rings, along with prominent white wing bars set against black bars, a greenish cast overall, and its habit of almost constantly flicking its wings will soon set this bird apart from any others.
The Ruby-crowned Kinglet exhibits a thin beak, typical of insectivorous birds.
A very thin beak hints at this bird's diet.  Kinglets are insectivores, using their small beaks to glean insects from leaves and branches, sometimes hovering in midair for several seconds at a time, a little like a plump-looking hummingbird.
Note the plump body, virtually no neck and large eyes of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet.
I enjoy seeing Ruby-crowned Kinglets in the Central Valley during the winter.  These cool weather visitors spend the warm summer months at home in the forests of the Sierra Nevada where they breed, and migrate downslope to lower elevations as mountain temperatures drop.  Elsewhere, they breed across Alaska and Canada, preferring spruce-fir forests, and migrate to the Southern and Southeastern United States and Mexico during the winter.
A special glimpse of the male's often concealed "ruby crown."
The photo above is of the first Ruby-crowned Kinglet I encountered; he was a curious little fellow, visiting outside the window in December of 2014.  Looking back, it was a real treat to see his ruby crown, as most of the time the bright red feathers are hidden.  Males can raise and lower this crown by fluffing up their feathers, which is exactly what this bird was doing.  In fact, I'm guessing this particular bird saw his reflection in the window as either an opponent to challenge or a female to impress; either way, male Ruby-crowned Kinglets only display their beautiful crowns when they are in a state of excitement.  This little kinglet came back to the window several times during the day, and I was able to get two semi-decent photos as my first introduction to this delightful little bird.

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