The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Ruby-crowed Kinglets are Plentiful This Winter
by Ro Wauer

Of all our wintering songbirds, the smallest is the ruby-crowned kinglet. Because of its diminutive size, less likely to spend much time in the open and never utilizing seed feeders, it is far less obvious than most other wintertime birds. Yet it is one of our most numerous wintering birds, spending most of its time among the foliage of trees and shrubs. And it also associates with many other birds, joining bird parties that wander about our wooded yards and woodlands in search of food. It never lands on the ground, although it occasionally will feed on small berries in winter.

Ruby-crowns are one of our most nervous birds, constantly on the go and constantly flicking its wings. In fact, it can usually be picked out in a flock of birds by its distinct behavior. It also will hover with beating wings when feeding. But it is not the most colorful of our wintertime birds, being rather drab greenish-brown with two white wing bars. On closer inspection, its white eyering is evident, and when excited, perhaps in the presence of a predator or being agitated for some other reason, its ruby crown flares up. In those cases, it will elevate its tiny reddish crown, and it is then very obvious why it is known as "ruby-crowned." But that observation is not the norm in winter.

The erect ruby crown is most prominent during the nesting season, especially for males trying to impress a lady ruby-crown. The ruby-crowned kinglet's breeding grounds is far different from the habitats that it utilizes in winter. In fact, it couldn't be any different. Ruby-crowns utilize the highland conifers, spruce and fir habitats, in the northern portion of the continent, all across Canada and through much of Alaska. In those areas during the nesting season, its high-pitched songs often dominate the forest. Nesting birds construct a tiny nest of moss, lichens, down, twigs and dead leaves, usually hung from a high

Ruby-crowned songs are amazing loud for such a tiny bird. Yet the song is so high-pitched that some folks are unable to detect it. The song has been described as a "reedy warbler" or a "variable tee tee tee, tew tew tew, teedadee teedadee teedadee." And its call note is a husky "ji dit." We in South Texas never hear its full song in winter, although it will sometimes sing partial songs on a sunny spring morning. But its ji dit notes, oftentimes running together for a considerable passage, is commonplace.

Kinglets are so unique that they have earned their own family in the bird world: Regulidae. The other kinglet, one that seldom is present in South Texas in winter, usually staying to the north, is the golden-crowned kinglet. Both kinglets possess the same genus name, Regulus; the ruby-crowned is known to science as Regulus calendula, while the golden-crowned is Regulus satrapa.

For those readers that have not yet seen our little ruby-crowned kinglet, it will take only a few minutes of your time to see one in almost any wooded areas this time of year. If you do not see it soon, just listen for its ji dit call notes, and you are sure to locate it. Use a pair of binoculars to admire it from a distance. You are sure to appreciate one of nature's most appealing creatures.

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