Wednesday, October 13, 2010

See the king(let) with his golden crown!*

I’m developing quite a love/hate relationship with the adorable golden-crowned kinglet (Regulus satrapa). I love the birds and they’re rapidly becoming one of my favorites. On the other hand, I absolutely detest trying to take pictures of the little energy balls with wings. Below you can see one of my best attempts:

Guess what this bird is, provided, that is, that you can actually SEE the bird.

Impressive, huh? There’s this guy named Corey who blogs at 10,000 Birds who apparently has a bird-immobilization ray gun. There’s no other explanation for the pictures of kinglets he gets. (I’ve considered the possibility that he has more skill and better equipment than me, as well. The ray gun theory may not conform to Occam’s Razor, but my ego still prefers that explanation.) You’ll find some of his pictures here and here.

I think my attraction to these birds is the continuity they’ve provided to our very eventful year. We last watched these birds in a boreal forest in Terra Nova National Park on the east coast of Newfoundland in June. They were cavorting with boreal chickadees (Poecile hudsonica) as we passed by. Returning to Michigan, I quit thinking about kinglets until a couple weeks ago when one jumped out in front of me at a local nature park. Lovers of chilly weather, they don’t tend to hang around here in the summer. Today I saw more than a dozen of them, selecting black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapilla) as their partners in crime here. I wonder if the kinglets that head to the far south hang out with Carolina chickadees (Poecile carolinensis)? They certainly seem to have a fondness for the Poecile.

Obviously the birds in Newfoundland don’t use a migration flyway that would bring them through Michigan. The kinglets of Newfoundland tend to stay year-round anyway. But still, I like to muse that I’m seeing the same birds I saw on the solstice in those boreal stands, just stopping by to say hello once again. Or perhaps to keep me company for the winter? The golden-crowned kinglet is considered the smallest bird (a fifth of an ounce!) to maintain normal body temperature (105F, 40C) routinely during freezing weather. Rather than entering a state of torpor, they huddle together in squirrel nests. The next time I fall asleep on a freezing winter night you know I’ll be picturing a tree cavity stuffed with toasty-warm kinglets.

*The title of this post is a reference to a song called "Donkey Riding" as performed by the Newfoundland band Great Big Sea. Get used to obscure references if you read this blog.


  1. Kirby, I would imagine they hang around chickadees and nuthatches for the same reason those latter two hang around each other: a similar interest in habitat and diet that each uses the other for. Chickadees eat more seeds than nuthatches which eat more seeds than kinglets, but they all tend to forage through conifers and some hardwoods, poking through bark and along twigs for insects. Or perhaps also, because of my theory on chickadees being a prominent intermediary species in alerts and alarm calls in the watch for predators. Lots of critters like to hang around and pay attention to chickadees.

  2. I think it's the latter more than a coincidence of overlapping niches, although that's obviously at play. Kinglets tend to be "with" chickadees more than just in the same general area. Hard to explain the difference, but you probably know what I mean. I do think chickadees being master watchdogs has to attract some other vulnerable species. Kinglets have a weak voice and sure aren't going to warn each other about a Cooper's Hawk very well. Chickadees will make so much commotion, the corvids show up and kick the hawk's butt. That actually happened in the exact spot I was watching these kinglets. A couple days ago I watched chickadees call in two blue jays and four crows to get rid of an Accipiter that I couldn't see well. I love that stuff!