(Editors' Note: This article was originally published on Januar 19, 2008. Your questions and comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
Since the Ruby-crowned Kinglets migrated back north last winter I had a certain feeling of reassurance they would return again. By then I was already steeped in sowing seeds and installing plants making the garden ready for spring. I had already braced myself, and knew they would be going back north to breed again as the frost subsided. It has been a sweet and hopeful thought every year as they left that they would come back, and they did. By springtime they will be heading back to the high canopied forests of north and western North America to prepare for their young.
It was January 14, 2008, when Ruby-crowned Kinglet came here for another winter. At first he zipped down to inspect the tiny heated pond and watched curiously as an Orange-crowned Warbler took a nice warm bath. Then after careful inspection he decided to take a dip himself. Then he quickly flitted into the nearby rose bush to preen himself. That is when I clearly saw the infamous ruby crown and was finally able to get a picture! Several of these little guys visited here in winters past, and I had clearly observed the ruby crown only once in all of those times.
Some of you already know, though I will give perspective to others of just how tiny this Kinglet is. They measure 4 – 4.25 inches or 8 – 11 centimeters in length. The average weight of an individual is around 5-10 grams. In comparison nearest in size to the hummingbird, which can measure between three and five inches long depending on the species. The Ruby-throated hummingbird measures an average of 3.75 – 4” or around 8 cm. in length. So Kinglet is one of North America's tiniest (and most adorable) birds.
Kinglets may be short in stature, yet never short of personality. They are in an almost constant state of motion during the daytime. Always flicking their wings very rapidly. Another part of their charm is that they are very unobtrusive. They are able to hover and snatch small insects right out of the air. Most often they fly in an undulating path, however I have watched Kinglet use one eye spiraling up in an approach to a feeder. This is much like the approach of a Peregrine Falcon on it's prey, possibly because both have monocular vision. Unlike most animals with monocular vision, both birds have keen vision using one eye at a time. Kinglet displays much of the same fortitude as the Peregrine, and that is only one reason why I refer to them as "a big bird in a tiny little bird suit."
With satisfactory habitat the female Kinglet can produce a very large clutch of eggs. At close to a dozen, the largest clutch of all the North American passerine birds of its size. Although the eggs themselves weigh only 0.65 g (0.02 oz.) each, an entire clutch can weigh as much as the female herself. She prefers to build her nests in tall trees at least 15 - 30 feet off the ground. She places the materials right where the branch meets the trunk of the tree. The male Kinglets are not normally known to be involved with nest building, however "both parents tend the young while they are in the nest and for a period after fledging. Young leave the nest about 16 days after fledging. Male continues to feed the young for another 10 days, but female may leave the breeding territory. They raise only one brood a year."
In winter their habitat can be fairly diverse as they leap-frog around in the lower North American thickets with other small birds until they find suitable food and safe lodging. Then they (more or less) settle down and stay until it warms back up in the northern US and Canada where they live and breed. Seems they like it “just right”, not too hot or too cold.
Their diet consists mostly of small insects such as; flies, wasps, beetles, spiders, and insect's eggs, especially those which are stuck to the undersides of leaves and twigs. In winter, they also eat a few seeds, sap, and berries from wax myrtles, poison ivy and red cedar. They seem to stay here for the fresh insect suet, a few evergreen shrubs, trees with berries, and sugar water. The micro-pond seems to be working fairly well also.
Their song is very recognizable too, and once heard you just have to look up to find them behind the distinct and voluminous sound they make. Their curiosity is greater than their fear, and rivals that of the European Robin which are known to follow a gardener all around the yard from various low branches watching any work get done. Perhaps to grab something stirred up within the ruffled ground, or just being extremely curious. Though unlike Robin, they really prefer to stay off the ground.
Although the conservation status states “low concern” or “common”, in some places they are very sparse or on the decline. So I write this article in hope of bringing awareness to gardeners who can prevent them from becoming endangered. Maybe just the awareness and appreciation is enough for now. Some of you may have had them in your garden and just never noticed before. So perhaps a few more North Americans may know a little more of what to look for. Keeping in touch with local gardeners, the wildlife conscious, and birders has always been a delightful way to stay in touch with the community.
Most of all we would love to hear your accounts of the Kinglet and all the other birds where you live, so please post them in the Bird Watching Forum here on Dave's. The forum celebrated its first anniversary as of January 1, 2008, and it's already proven to be a very lively and friendly place, with daily first hand reports and photos of birds from all over the world. I really do hope to see you there!
Where are you on their map? Ruby-crowned Kinglet Distribution Map
Hyperlinks to more Kinglet pictures by Dave's members> Last winter Dave's Garden member Charles Lentz (linthicum) took this excellent photo of RCKL revealing the crown, and since then he has taken several more. Sheila Franklin (SheilaFW) also posted a pic (TX5) with the crown showing! Other fine members have posted their great shots too. Kinglet has been spotted and/or photographed by DG members from Alaska, Oregon, OR2, California, Texas, TX2, TX3, TX4, TX5, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, and Maryland. These photographer/bird watchers will tell you that they are not the easiest subject to catch being still, however certainly worth all the time it takes.
1. Monocular vision occurs when the eyes are placed on the sides of the head. Each eye sees a different image. The advantage here is the field of vision greatly increases, so that the bird can see danger from both sides.
2. Food habits/Habitat/Breeding, from: http://www.oiseaux.net/birds/ruby-crowned.kinglet.html
3. Other small birds including Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Vireos, Gnatcatchers, and any number of similar sized species of which eat the same foods.
4. Micro pond- A shallow tub recessed into the ground with circulating water and a simple aquarium heater.