Be Your Own Birder

Bird of the Week: Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

This is the time of year when we all need a bit more energy – the holiday season is approaching (for some of us, already here in full force), as is the end of the year and its chaos. For me, this means planning holiday meals and baking, the crush of Christmas shopping, seeking out the perfect holiday cards and getting them written and posted, visiting seasonal craft fairs, extensive decorating, year-end deadlines, preparing for tax season and more, on top of the regular hectic pace of work, housecleaning, volunteering, school commitments, laundry, meal-planning and other tasks. I can think of no better bird to represent the essential energy and industry of the season than the ruby-crowned kinglet.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet – Photo by Mike Smith

Name: Ruby-Crowned Kinglet
Scientific Name: Regulus calendula
Scientific Family: Regulidae

Habitat: These tiny dynamos are found in all types of forests, from pine, spruce and fir coniferous forests during the summer breeding season to more southerly deciduous forests and semi-tropical, jungle-like forests in winter. Because they prefer taller trees for nesting, more mature habitats are preferred, and dense, thicket-like areas are superb shelter and foraging space.

Range: Found throughout much of Canada and Alaska during the summer, but absent from barren tundra regions. Their summer range also includes suitable portions of the Rocky Mountain west as far south as northern Arizona and central New Mexico, as well as northern Wisconsin, Michigan’s upper peninsula and northern Maine. In winter, these birds migrate to the Pacific coast, the southern United states and throughout the southeast as far north as Maryland. They are also widespread in  Mexico during the winter months.

Ruby-crowned kinglets are tiny but mighty. At just four inches long, they can be difficult to see, but their constant activity helps make them easier to spot as they flit frantically from branch to branch to branch. They are overall a dull olive-green with paler whitish underparts and brighter yellow edging the wings and tail. The wing shows one bold white wing bar, and the eye is set off by a white ring that usually appears full, but may be narrower or less noticeable just above and below the eye. The feature that gives these birds their name, the bright ruby crown, is actually a tiny patch of brilliant red feathers on the top of their head, but it is often completely hidden unless the bird is exceptionally agitated, the angle is just right and the light is perfect.

I’ve seen ruby-crowned kinglets in different time zones, habitats and seasons, but I’ve never yet seen one sit still and calm – they’re always bustling, zipping and flittering about. Fortunately, that means I’ve also had the opportunity to see that brilliant crown in all its ruby-jeweled glory, though while I was enamored with the bird I’m sure it was less than thrilled with my presence (hence why I could see the crown so well as I was getting told off). Now living in Florida, these birds are perfect for autumn and winter as they migrate to my region – I’ve even been privileged to record them as a yard bird on several occasions. Each time I see one, its quick flits and flashes remind me to amp up the energy in this busy season. If such a tiny bird can stay so active all day long, what excuse do I have to be lazy?

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