For the Birds: The small, but mighty kinglet

People like large birds. Eagles, hawks, owls, even herons and waterfowl, get birders and non-birders alike excited.

Smaller birds? Sure, birders get excited about smaller birds too, but for non-birders, these birds have to bring something appealing to the table.

Everyone likes cardinals. They’re bright red. Everyone likes chickadees. They’re cute, tame and active. Non-birders are split on blue jays. Some like them because they are blue (and fairly large), and some dislike them because they heard jays are bully birds and they can’t let it go.

In fact, many smaller birds go completely unnoticed by non-birders, even when the birds make their presence rather obvious. A flock of white-throated sparrows or dark-eyed juncos can dart in every direction right in front of a non-birder and it will be as if nothing ever happened. A birder, however, will stop dead in his or her tracks, reach for the binoculars and try to find the little birds in the brush just to confirm an ID.

Not that I’m being critical of non-birders. It’s just not their thing. My son Andrew loves cars. When we drive together he points out all the cars that catch his eye. Look, Dad, there’s a BMW X2TR5 or an Audi 627X, he’ll say. Those aren’t the real models, of course. I forget the real model names the second he tells me. I’m glad he has a passion and great knowledge of it, but cars aren’t my thing.

Just like birds aren’t everybody’s thing.

I thought about that during a recent walk. To me, it was a great bird walk. I saw a lot of birds that got my blood pumping and managed to get a few decent photos of some elusive species. The bird list included species such as palm warbler, yellow-rumped warbler, Carolina wren, ruby-crowned kinglet, and the aforementioned white-throated sparrow and dark-eyed junco. Not bad for November.

All of those birds are small and rather nondescript, at least without the aid of binoculars. A non-birder would have been bored silly. I was loving it.

The kinglet got me thinking most of all. They are tiny birds, never sit still and hardly utter a peep when they pass through New England in the fall. I can almost guarantee that a non-birder has never taken even the slightest interest in a kinglet. Yet birders love them.

Kinglets are almost as small as hummingbirds, in size anyway, not necessarily in weight. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are about 7 to 9 centimeters long and ruby-crowned kinglets are about 9 to 11 centimeters long. Hummingbirds are a mere 2 to 6 grams, depending on activity and the last time they ate. Kinglets weigh in at a comparatively hefty 5 to 10 grams. By comparison, black-capped chickadees are 10 to 15 centimeters and 11 to 12 grams.

Kinglets are also rather bland from a distance or by a quick glance. Closer inspection yields an interesting mix of olive green, yellow, black and white plumage. As their name suggests, males have a red crown that is exposed when the bird is excited. In my experience, it is not exposed too often.

Kinglets are a far cry from an eagle or heron, but they are big in character, hardiness and energy. As a birder, I can appreciate that.

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