This is the latest in the series “Wild Things” presented by the Dayton Outdoor Recreation Examiner.
By Jim McCormac
OhioDivision of Wildlife
Golden-crowned kinglets are truly dinky, weighing in at just six grams. That’s little more than a nickel. Thirteen kinglets would equal the weight of an American robin, and 75 would be required to make a crow. Kinglets may be small, but they’re tough as nails.
These ping-pong ball-sized songbirds are branded with the scientific nameRegulus, which means “little king.” A big title for a little bird and it stems from the brilliant stripe of gold that caps the bird’s head. In males, this crown patch also includes flaming orange highlights, and if agitated the kinglet will raise those feathers creating an explosion of color. This fiery crown provides a startling contrast to the rest of the bird, which is mostly drab olive.
Extreme hardiness is built into the golden-crowned kinglets’ constitution. These sprites nest in northern spruce-fir forests, mostly well to the north of Ohio. We get plenty of them in migration and winter, and it shouldn’t be hard to find a kinglet if you know how to look.
Most people – even veteran outdoors people – go through life unaware of kinglets. Not surprising – kinglets aren’t much larger than hummingbirds and flit discreetly in the boughs of trees. They are especially fond of conifers, and the dense needles of spruce, fir, and pine further serve to mask their presence.
The trick to discovering golden-crowned kinglets is to use your ears. The birds constantly emit a high-pitched Tsee-tsee-tsee, and with some practice these vocalizations are easily learned, and will lead the listener to the kinglets. A good visual cue to their identity from afar is the kinglets’ habitat of constant wing-flitting–the birds are in continual motion and a pause of even two seconds is rare.
How does a pint-sized, strictly insect-eating fluff ball like a kinglet survive tough northern winters? The answer, in part, is an almost supernatural ability to locate tiny caterpillars. There are far more caterpillars than one might think in the winter woods, riding out the winter fastened to twigs with silken strands. Most of these larvae are far too small to be noticed by people, but sharp-eyed kinglets are adept at discovering them.
Golden-crowned kinglets are also endowed with an incredible layer of down feathers. When puffed to fullness, these feathers create a wonderful insulating layer that traps warm air near the kinglet’s skin, and keeps frosty temperatures at bay. To up their odds of surviving long winter nights, kinglets also roost communally in sheltered spots. Several birds will huddle together, greatly reducing the loss of each individual’s body heat.
Next time you’re near some conifers, listen for the lisps of kinglets. With a bit of effort, you may be rewarded with the sight of one of the world’s tiniest, but toughest songbirds.
For more information, visit wildohio.com.