Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Tiniest Kings - Ruby-Crowned and Gold-Crowned Kinglets

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula Phippsburg Maine October 21, 2011
The red smudge on the crown of this bird's head raises up to a nice, ruby crest when it's trying to attract chicks during breeding season. It does not fully display its crest often. It's not as flashy as its cousin that sports a golden crown no matter what it's up to. Maybe because it's smaller, the Golden-crowned feels the need be ostentatious.
Gold-crowned Kinglet Regulus satrapa Phippsburg, Maine October 24, 2011
(this bird was a window strike. It lived to rule the forest another day)

     This tiny bird is sitting on the end of my index finger. I have small hands and often wear children's gloves when I garden. It's hard to find gloves that fit so that the finger tip doesn't fold over. That should give you an idea of just how diminutive this bird is. Next to Ruby-throated hummingbirds, these are our smallest birds The Golden-crowned Kinglet in the bottom two images is about four inches from bill tip to tail tip. The Ruby-crowned is a smidge longer at four and a quarter inches. Given how small they are, it must be hard for them to find crowns that fit.
     I feel their pain. Not only are my fingers short, so are my legs. I'm wearing a "petite" bathrobe that is slightly too long. When the Golden-crowned Kinglet hit the window, I leaped to its rescue and almost fell on the floor, hobbled by the hem of the robe. My inseam is only twenty seven inches. To buy pants that don't drag on the ground, I have to shop in obscure places. I can't walk in to a store and buy off the rack and expect a positive outcome. Even when a garment says "short" or "petite" on the label, I can't assume that means short enough for me. Lately, I've been buying pants at Denim & Company, an online  QVC store. Because I have found this source for pants that fit perfectly, I have anxieties that suddenly, the next time I need a new pair, Denim & Company will have vanished. It is a universal rule that when you find a product that you love and become dependent upon, it will  cease to be available. I appreciate many of the challenges these precious birds face out there in the wild. I wonder if the Kinglets have problems while crown shopping. Is there a crown outlet somewhere amidst the vast malls of New Jersey ? If a Kinglet wears a crown that is too big, thus slipping on its head, it could be fatal. My crown has slipped a few times nearly killing me. I get it.
   There are six species of kinglets on the planet. We have two in North America, the ones you see here. The scientific name Regulidae comes from the Latin word regulus for "petty king" or prince. That comes from the colored crowns of adult birds. Loosely, these little guys fall into the class of Old World Warblers along with Thrushes and some of their buddies, the Tits and Dippers, which doesn't sound very classy at all if you ask me! They sound like performers at a strip club.
     Kinglets have an elongated fourth, hind toe for suspending from branches. However, this still doesn't make them good at pole dancing. They perform in the tree tops preferring mixed woods. The Golden-crowned especially likes the tops of conifers, though I often see them in birches and alders. Both kinglets are insect eaters. They will also eat the eggs of insects and the pulp of berries. Their rapid metabolism and small size mandate that they eat constantly, even while nest building. Kinglets that can't eat can lose a third of their body weight in twenty minutes and may starve to death in an hour.They flit and twiddle around at the ends of branches, hovering as they glean bugs from the leaves. Ruby-crowned kinglets are recognizable by their constant wing flicking. Keeping the crown firmly on the head is an imperative during this kind of acrobatic food hunting. They are fast moving, energetic birds that are hard to photograph. They don't sit still for studio work very well, unless stunned like the Golden-crowned shown here.
     Kinglets aren't endangered, though some studies suggest population declines due to habitat loss in some areas. Many of them, though not truly migratory,  move further south from their breeding areas in the winter months. But, many of them stay here. They eat insects in the tree tops all winter and especially fancy the caterpillars of moths and snow fleas. Rumor has it that during the winter, they wash the bugs in their mugs down with single malt Scotch. For me to stay in the top of a spruce tree for the winter, it would take Glenfiddich. And, you could keep the crown.

Sibley, David A, The Sibley Guide to Birds, 2000, Pg 394
Cornell Lab of Ornithology

And, Dr. Herb Wilson, Judy Scher, Robeta Lane, AnnieO, Kristen Lindquist, Julia, Sean Smith, Sharon F. and Joel Wilcox for information and resources.

This post just recieved Editor's Pick on Open Salon ( It is my twelfth Editor's Pick.


  1. AMAZING photography...almost 3D! I so enjoyed your humorous narrative. Wouldn't it be great if people could have the Kinglet's metabolism! The thought of constant eating because you would have to or lose body weight within 20 minutes is mind boggling...except I would prefer other menu choices! You know...I have the opposite clothing problem as legs are so long ...could you send me the extra pant leg material you cut off so I can stitch them onto mine?

  2. HG, thank you very much! I thought the same thing about metabolism when I read that. I wished the same could be said for my body! How do we get that deal, anyway? Oh, live in the trees, maybe that's it. Rats.

  3. No Crowns needed for me, these sweet little kinglets can keep them but now Denim & Co you say?
    I just may have to check them out. My goal is not to have to hem!

  4. AnnieO, Absolutely NO hemming in my life. I realized long ago that when I bought something with the intent of hemming it, I usually put on enough weight by the time I got to it that the hemming became irrelevant. Gave it up.

  5. Super shots! Just ran into a flock of these tiny tidbits a few days ago! Love them

  6. Awesome,awesome post! Full of interesting facts and loads of good cheer. Blogging at it's best is personal, informative and engaging. This is all that and more Robin. Inspired stuff. So much fun I read it twice. You set the bar very high, thank you for this uplifting read.

  7. Great post Robin. Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

  8. Beautiful photos, and I like the way you did your captions this time. Your essay under it is funny and informative, nice post glad to see EP for you.

    rita shibr
    October 26, 2011 02:44 PM

  9. Dawn and rita, thank you both for the views and commens. There is so much dry birding info out there it's a challenge for me to come up with something informative and amusing.

  10. Wow! Springman, what glowing accolades! I hope I can continue to reach my own bar, now that you've said that. I'm intimidated now. Thank you.

  11. I loved seeing these shots of the tiny 'kings'...when we moved out west I was surprised by how many large raptors, not so many smaller lovelies. Finches, juncos, hummingbirds, chickadee are the tiniest I've seen here...then got distracted by your inseam measurement, thinking, "Wow. That is a short inseam. Then of course, being me I had to measure my own inseam...I've got all of two inches on you, and that's because I like my pants long...
    Tiny kings indeed! : )

    Just Thinking...
    October 26, 2011 02:52 PM

  12. Thank you, Just Thinking. Here's to those of us with short legs and big minds. Now, what't the measurement for THAT??

  13. Beautiful photos!!!

    Heidi Banerjee
    October 26, 2011 03:40 PM

  14. Lovely!

    October 26, 2011 03:50 PM

  15. Amazing photos - and I love what you wrote. Thank you for bringing these lovely birds closer to us.

    Alysa Salzberg
    October 26, 2011 04:57 PM

  16. WHEW. Had to go back to the photos a second time after reading this to figure out how you managed to get a photo of one of them on your fingertip! Beautiful photos, wonderful piece of writing. RRRRRR [to begin to "sound" a little like Linda S.! ;-)]

    October 26, 2011 06:05 PM

  17. robin - love these pics. so glad to get a reminder to stop by! i have a post i did not remove in the melee, called "birds for dude rita" i believe (hi rita! fancy seeing you at a bird post!). my favorite information gleaned from that post is that there is a bird called a bushtit, which these guys remind me of.
    thanks for these pictures - and you must have quite a bird-whispering knack, to have that tiny thing sitting, unafraid, on your fingertip like that.

    jane smithie
    October 26, 2011 06:41 PM

  18. jane, Just Thinking, Heidi, Tim4change, Alysa and podunk, thanks all of yaz! It totally rocks that you guys are reading, rating and commenting. I love the attention, but more so I love that I have educated a few people about these wonderful, tiny parts of our natural world. And I got a few laughs in the bargain. Now THAT is education!

  19. Damn, Robin! If I'd known I was going to get my name in print, I would have made up some *&%# about kinglets, too!
    Loved the blog post!


  20. love those kinglets!!

  21. A tiny bird flew into my patio door, recently. It was stunned but recovered. It was maybe half the size of the goldfinches and had a yellow breast. I had never seen one before and didn't know what it was. Love this piece.

    Sarah Cavanaugh
    October 26, 2011 07:22 PM

  22. Terrific photos and post.
    Congrats on the EP!!


  23. Gorgeous. Thanks for the ornithology lesson. I had a nice visit last year by a Rose-breasted Grosbeak (sp?).

    Scarlett Sumac
    October 26, 2011 08:08 PM

  24. Congratulations on a well deserved EP. Those pictures are wonderful. -R-

    Christine Geery
    October 26, 2011 08:25 PM

  25. You really know how to make a bad day better!! Thanks!

  26. Great post! I just love these cute kinglets. Your photos are awesome!

  27. Thank you, Eileen. I'm amazed how impressed everyone has been with the photos.

  28. Love your photos and your story. I could see you grabbing at that bathrobe trying to get outdoors to rescue the little bird. A couple summers ago we had a persistent male bluebird that repeatedly smacked into a window near his nest. Must have seen his reflection and thought it was a competitor. I put a stuffed cat in the window to discourage him, but it didn't help. How he survived without bashing his head in is still a mystery.

    Matt Paust
    October 26, 2011 09:30 PM

  29. Matt, Funny! I can just imagine a poor, beat up stuffed cat slumped in a window, trying to look threatening. Was it a black cat? Ha ha!

  30. I love your articles about birds. They are amusing as well as informative. I would suggest breaking some of your paragraphs into smaller, more concentrated blocks, only for ease of absorbing so much information in such a small space.
    I also now have "Camera Envy." Maybe you could do a piece on the equipment you use to get such lovely and crisp photos sometime? It's only to satisfy my curiosity on your gear, though I would suggest that such an article, done with reference to your work with it, would be as interesting as these.
    Once again, loved the bird articles, keep 'em coming.


    October 27, 2011 12:16 AM

  31. Loved the photos, also loved all the information. Of all creatures birds are most special to me, now I treasure these even more.

    l'Heure Bleue
    October 27, 2011 01:53 AM

  32. Absolutely STUNNING!!! You may be petite, but your eye is a giant!!

    Brazen Princess
    October 27, 2011 01:53 AM

  33. R! As a ROBINson I've always had a soft heart for our fine feathered brothers and sisters :) Love these photos and your attention to the details of your descriptions.

    Ron Robinson

    October 27, 2011 03:43 AM

  34. I do my best to be friendly to the sparrows, seagulls, chickadees, Siberian jays, woodpeckers, crows and magpies in my area but never had one perch on my finger while I manipulated a camera. Great photos, great writing.

    Jan Sand
    October 27, 2011 04:25 AM

  35. A ruby throated hummingbird once landed on my knee and I haven't been the same since. It was its little limitless black eyes just a lookin' me over that bound me. The kinglets are already here in Florida. Sweet bird. Thanks for such great info!

    October 27, 2011 05:04 AM

  36. Great post my friend. Beautiful photo's with a running commentary that was both funny and informative. Great job and I hope your store stays open!

    October 27, 2011 06:07 AM

  37. What magnificent little creatures. And an excellent photographer to capture its blithe spirit.

    Francoise Arouete
    October 27, 2011 08:04 AM

  38. Amusing, informative post! I love your writing style. The Kinglets are beautiful lettle birds. What an amazing feeling it must have been to have one perched on your finger!

  39. They do shop in the NJ malls for their crowns, because I was lucky enough to see one in a nearby meadowlands conservatory. In full ruby bloom. Thank you so much!!! for this wonderful post with great photos and your special whimsical touch. You are aptly named.

    Pam Malone
    October 27, 2011 09:16 AM

  40. Hey Little Robin!
    I haven't heard from You in a while...
    Again, excellent blog AND PHOTOS!!!!!!!

    My attached photo is embarrassing in comparison, rather in contrast..
    but I did see this Yellow-Bellied one on Small Point Rd at Michele's last week.
    Light was overcast, barely had time to pull out my shirt-pocket Canon..

    Anyhow....... I wanted say hi and how much I enjoy your work!

    The Ohio ex-grain farmer still looking at property (now on Small Point Rd again, Friday)...
    The one in Dresden had arsenic in the water test!
    driving out in the middle of the night tonight.
    (how do You hold your big Canon camera? :-)

  41. Lovely lovely lovely. You neglected to tell a most important thing: how did you get it to sit on your finger?! I want to wear one of these gorgeous rings as well :-)

    October 27, 2011 10:21 AM

  42. Green Heron, thank you. I pay them off handsomely to sit where I want them to. Oh, if only it were that simple! I'm glad you enjoyed the bird's company as much as I did. What I didn't show was where it also pooped on me before it took off! Everything has a price, eh?

  43. I love the way that you identify with these tiny, beautiful creatures!

    Jeanette DeMain
    October 27, 2011 10:25 AM

  44. I so enjoyed reading this wonderful post filled with interesting kinglet information, fantastic close-up images and laughing out loud humor. So glad the little Golden-crowed Kinglet survived the glass strike. A most beautiful bird! Fabulous post!

  45. ell-deserved cover piece! rated.

    Jonathan Wolfman
    October 27, 2011 10:35 AM

  46. A little poop can be easily overlooked for the jewel that made it :-)

    October 27, 2011 10:43 AM

  47. They sure are a delight! wonderful shot!

  48. Wow these are not easy birds to get pictures off. The two last ones are cracking and perfect. Well done Robin for this nice set... And the info are really interesting! Thanks!

  49. Pat and Chris, thank you. True enough, they are really hard to get as they are so busy. They never stop moving. Well, for a fraction of a second they do, or I'd never get these shots!

  50. Beautiful, Robin. That third shot of the Gold-crowned is exceptionally sharp and lovely. Thanks so much for sharing these beauties.

    October 27, 2011 12:39 PM

  51. Fabulous photos and fantastic writing. That feathered feller in the second shot looks like he's posing for a magazine's centerfold. ;)

    Belinda T.
    October 27, 2011 01:04 PM

  52. So beautiful and delicate - I just love small birds like these.

    Sarah Brausch
    October 27, 2011 01:14 PM

  53. You've outdone yourself. The photos are great, but I loved your writing more. R
    Rodney Roe
    October 27, 2011 02:09 PM

  54. We don't see many birds where I live except pigeons and grackles so thanks for a look at the pretty winged creatures.

    Miguela Holt y Roybal
    October 27, 2011 02:29 PM

  55. how cool!!

    hyblaean- Julie
    October 27, 2011 02:32 PM

  56. and
    just in case the other goes south

    hyblaean- Julie
    October 27, 2011 02:34 PM

  57. Belinda, First of all, thank you very much. But secondly, if that bird is a centerfold, just where exsactly would one put the staple?
    Thank you, Sarah, bbc, Rodney, hybalaean-Julie you are wonderful to view, comment and rate my work. And the compliments! My old head's a swellin'! I was out doing stuff today with my husband, then came home to all of these terrific comments and thought, "WOW! How can I tell them all thank you?" Here I am saying it, but it's not enough.

    Robin Robinson

    October 27, 2011 06:45 PM

  58. Great shots of the Kinglets Robin! The Ruby-crowned is one of my all time faves. They are so energetic. That portrait of the Gold-crowned Kinglet against the white background is simply breathtaking!

  59. Larry, thank you. For you to say an image is breathtaking is an astonishing compliment. I'm honored.

  60. Amazing photo! Congrats on the ep!

    Susie Lindau
    October 27, 2011 11:49 PM

  61. lovely post==and one of my favorite birds ;-)

    Mary Richmond
    October 28, 2011 01:25 PM

  62. Thanks for sharing such beautiful blog post. The power of commenting and blogging provide a landscape for views and points on a article. Again Thanks.

    muneeb whd muneeb whd
    October 28, 2011 02:00 PM

  63. Beautiful photos! Birds often fly into my front glass door and it usually takes hours for them to recover and fly away--I'm always happy to see them in the air again.

    Karin Greenberg
    October 28, 2011 03:33 PM

  64. 1) I am SO impressed you got that little thing to land and then stay long enough on your petite finger for its picture to be taken!
    2) You and I would look like Mutt and Jeff if we were ever to stand side by side!
    3) Party... your house... I’m inviting me!
    4) I leave you alone for a week and come back to yet another EP. Congratulations. I’ll be off the computer for another week. What will I come back to!?!?!?!

    Chrissie Pissie
    October 28, 2011 06:33 PM

  65. Beautiful photo essay!
    Congratulations on the EP well deserved.
    Thanks for adding me to your favorites.
    M. C. Sears
    October 28, 2011 09:08 PM

  66. Wonderful, Robin! I especially like the little guy on the dusty miller
    and on your finger. The detail is amazing. I can even see his whiskers!
    I guess the bang on their heads, if not fatal, gives you many opportunities!

    Your opening photo of asters and monarchs is glorious!!

    Nice to see you on line again.

  67. Lovely pictures! Cute bird!
    Greetings from Switzerland

  68. this Kinglet is beyond adorable. so very sweet and tiny. great photos also. thanks for stopping by my blog today. we love our frogs and snakes and dogs and anything with 4 legs. NOT the big mean snakes, but they are not here in our yard.

  69. I could have sworn I commented on this the other day. Maybe I forgot to wait for "the word" to verify my existence! Marvelous post. Was wondering if you have ready 'Winter World' by Berndt Heinrich in which he reveres Golden-crowned Kinglet?

  70. I have just installed iStripper, so I can have the sexiest virtual strippers stripping on my desktop.