Photo Credit: 
Randy Mitchell

Like last week's featured creature, the ruby-crowned kinglet, the golden-crowned kinglet is a winter visitor to Oklahoma.

They truly are a joy to watch as they flit about in trees and shrubs in search of food. But because they are so small, you really need to either be close to them or have binoculars or a camera with a telephoto lens to identify them.

Every year, beginning Jan. 1, I embark on something called a big year. It’s a personal challenge where I attempt to identify as many bird species as possible in a 12-month period. The goal is to identify more birds than the year before.

And, each January, I visit a certain wooded area near where I live in search of two birds to add to the list: the golden-crowned kinglet and the brown creeper.

The area is also crawling with ruby-crowned kinglets, white-breasted nuthatches, and downy woodpeckers. It is full of deciduous trees such as oaks and hickories, but also evergreen cedars, which seem to be a good place for golden-crowned kinglets to find food.

According to the American Bird Conservancy, the golden-crowned Kinglet produces large clutches of eggs for such a tiny bird — usually eight or nine. Pairs routinely raise two large broods per season. 

The ABC reports that the unusual productivity offsets a high rate of winter mortality. An astounding 87% of golden-crowned kinglets perish every year, and unusually harsh winters can completely wipe out local populations.

 

Appearance

 

Golden-crowned kinglets are about 4 inches in length. They are just slightly smaller than Carolina chickadees but appear a bit more plump.

They are gray and olive overall, with white wing bars. The golden-crowned kinglet is so named because it has, well, a golden crown (see photo).

However, there is quite a bit more to it than the crowns.

Both males and females have a bright yellow stripe atop the head, surrounded by black. They also have whitish faces with dark stripes going across the eyes and from the beak downward, like a moustache.

Males and females resemble each other; however, males have a whole bunch of orange-red feathers hidden under the yellow stripe. And the feathers usually remain hidden unless the bird gets excited.

And when a male gets excited, the feathers raise straight up and, to me, it appears as if its head is exploding. It really is a sight to see. I’ve seen it before, but I didn’t have a camera with me.

The ruby-crowned kinglet is similar in appearance; however, it lacks the black and yellow on the crown. RCKs also have distinctive white bars behind and in front of each eye (broken eye rings).

 

Range

 

Golden-crowned kinglets can be found all over Oklahoma in winter. They breed in portions of the western and eastern United States and across Canada.

 

Habitat

 

In winter, golden-crowned kinglets can be found in deciduous and coniferous woods, overgrown fields, cities, suburbs and riverside habitats. In fact, the photo with the kinglet on the railing, I took that along the Arkansas River in eastern Oklahoma.

 

Food

 

In winter, they eat small, soft-bodied insects, spiders and mites. Kinglets glean these insects and spiders — along with their eggs — from tree trunks, branches and leaves. Many insects and spiders find a place to hide and remain dormant on cold days, only to venture out on warm winter days. During cold weather, golden-crowned kinglets seek out and often find these torpid creatures (see photo).

 

Odds and ends

 

  • The Cornell Lab of Ornithology reports that each of the golden-crowned kinglet’s nostrils is covered by a single, tiny feather.
  • The oldest known golden-crowned kinglet was a male, at least 6 years, 4 months old when it was recaptured and rereleased by a Minnesota bird bander in 1976, according to the Lab.

 

Randy Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. He has been an avid birdwatcher, nature enthusiast and photographer for more than 40 years. Reach him at rnw@usa.com.