You didn’t think I’d stop at just a couple kinglet photos, did you?
I’ve seen them in the deep woods, in my flower garden, in suburban parks and even at a sandy beach.
There are no excuses for missing out on kinglets during the fall migration. That is, unless you aren’t outside enough looking for them, which is unacceptable.
Last week, I wrote about the tiny kinglets being tough creatures able to withstand extremely low temperatures. This week, I’ll take a closer look at kinglets, a good reliable sighting throughout New England during migration periods.
We have two types of kinglets in New England: the ruby-crowned kinglet and the golden-crowned kinglet. Don’t let the names fool you, the color of the crown is not a good way to distinguish the two species in the field. First of all, you hardly ever see the crowns in the first place — especially that of the ruby-crowned kinglet — and secondly, the colors don’t exactly match up.
Golden-crowned kinglets usually show their colorful crown, but they hardly sit still long enough to see it and often they are above you and the crown is not visible anyway. Ruby-crowned kinglets, in my experiences, typically don’t show their crowns unless they are agitated. Also from my experiences, they are fairly docile (yet always moving) birds and therefore don’t get agitated very often.
Speaking of being agitated, when a golden-crowned kinglet gets all worked up, its crown is actually orange and yellow. True to its name, the ruby-crowned kinglet’s crown is red.
Facial markings are a much better way to tell apart the kinglets. Golden-crowned kinglets have a black eye line and the yellow crown is bordered boldly by black. Ruby-crowned kinglets have a much more nondescript face, but they do have a broken white eyering. So a kinglet with an eyering is the ruby-crowned. Ruby, ring. Get it?
Also, to me anyway, the ruby-crowned kinglet appears to be a bit more round and less sleek than the golden-crowned. It looks as though the ruby-crowned kinglets didn’t exercise as much as their counterparts.
I’ve seen good numbers of kinglets throughout the years. This fall has been no exception as the other day I had at least half a dozen flitting among the bushes as I raked leaves.
I will always remember the day years ago when I looked out the window and saw one of each species foraging next to each other in an evergreen. It was a rare side-by-side comparison opportunity.
I’m not alone in seeing plenty of kinglets, of course. Eric from Surry wrote the other day about a unique experience he had with the tiny birds.
As he was stacking firewood, he noticed movement among the pines surrounding him. “Before I knew it, it was an invasion of kinglets,” he wrote.
He sat on the woodpile to watch the show. At one point, he watched as 20 to 30 kinglets foraged among the branches. “That particular warm autumn day proved when you are feeling down, birdlife and nature, on the whole, can always lift your spirits.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Selling some bird wares at Christ the King Lutheran Church’s Tag and Craft Fair in Newtown, Connecticut (Saturday, November 9). Stop by if you’re in the neighborhood.
I’ll offer some cards for sale on this site soon – as soon as I figure out how to do it!
Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers …
I was recently interviewed about birds and bird population trends by radio show host John McGauley of WKBK.
John had a lot of interesting questions and, following the interview, one in particular stood out in my mind. He asked: “What are the more sturdy birds? Are there any that are especially hardy and durable?”
My on-the-spot answer was hawks and other large raptors. While hawks are indeed large and strong and fierce, I wish I had would have responded differently. All birds, large and small, are hardy and durable. It would have sounded like a wishy-washy answer, but I could have explained it.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds, weighing in at about three grams and measuring a mere three inches, are amazingly resilient in their migration. The hummingbirds that breed in New England fly more than 2,000 miles to Mexico or Central America each fall — then return to us each spring.
Part of that arduous journey includes a non-stop flight of about 500 miles over the Gulf of Mexico. It takes about 20 rest-free hours to make that trip. I can barely stay awake for 16 hours straight, let alone trying to keep moving for that long.
Yes, the ruby-throated hummingbird would have been a good candidate for a “sturdy bird,” despite its colorful and dainty appearance.
I like to keep my columns focused on New England, but penguins would have been another good answer. The penguin movies that came out a few years ago shed light on the brutal conditions they endure in Antarctica. They are, of course, well suited for that weather, but still.
Or, how about frigate birds or albatrosses? They can fly or soar for months on end. An albatross can travel 10,000 miles without stopping. Think about that for a minute.
Coming back to New England, I was reminded of another sturdy bird while I did some yard work the other day. A ruby-crowned kinglet flitted among the sedum, a tough plant that blooms well into fall. I looked around the yard and three or four other kinglets were moving among the trees and bushes.
Hummingbirds get the majority of attention as a tiny bird that accomplishes great things. I sang their praises myself a few paragraphs ago. The attention is deserved as they are New England’s smallest bird. Kinglets, however, are an often overlooked tiny bird that beats the odds.
Kinglets are not that much larger than hummingbirds, having them beat by only a half-inch or so, depending on the individual birds. Kinglets are much bulkier and the difference in weight is more significant. But that’s compared to a hummingbird. By any other standard, kinglets are tiny little things. Even chickadees make kinglets look small.
That doesn’t mean kinglets are delicate. Not by any stretch. Both New England kinglet species — ruby-crowned and golden-crowned — breed in Canada and northern New England. We see kinglets in the middle and southern parts of New England in the fall and spring.
Kinglets are mostly short-distance migrants. Some golden-crowned kinglets remain up north throughout winter. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, golden-crowned kinglets “routinely winter in areas where nighttime temperatures can fall below negative 40 degrees Fahrenheit.”
Sturdy enough for you? It certainly is for me. I only wish I had remembered that during the interview so I could have given kinglets their due.
The list of sturdy birds can go on and on. Pretty much any bird can be singled out and shown to be sturdy. I’m pretty sure that’s one of the reasons we love birds so much. Who doesn’t like something with superpowers?
If you have a good candidate for a sturdy bird, drop me a line at email@example.com.
Here are two more shots of the nuthatch taken with the borrowed lens. (Click here for what the heck I mean about “borrowed lens.”)
My friend Ellen was excited to show me her new Canan f2.8 lens with a range of 70 to 200mm. She asked if I wanted to borrow it for a week and I said yes (of course). With 200mm as the maximum zoom, its capability as a wildlife photography lens is limited, but still very useful for some circumstances. Many of the days were overcast and that made the 2.8 aperture very handy. It is also a high-quality lens so even subjects that are a bit distant will still be sharp.
I experimented with the lens mostly in the backyard where I know I have a steady supply of subjects near the birdfeeders. White-breasted nuthatches turned out to be the best subjects as they perched in a tree close to the feeders before coming to get a seed. Here are some of the results. The lens has since been returned but it was a joy to play with it for a few days. Thanks Ellen.
This blue jay apparently does, especially since they are really peanuts.