Seeing kinglets up close a treat

Posted Oct. 29, 2008, at 6:10 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 5:55 a.m.

I saw a flock of about eight Golden-crowned Kinglets gleaning food from the undersides of leaves. Each bird would hover underneath a leaf and pluck off something small with their tiny bills. They were eating insect eggs.

The kinglets were fascinating to watch. I was with my relatives, and we studied their black and white wing bars, the black and white stripes on their faces and heads and the bright yellow stripe on the tops of their heads that gave them their name.

I was transfixed by the beautiful green on their backs. Because they are usually high up in the spruces, it is not always possible to see their backs. Now they were hovering among the branches and leaves of small deciduous trees. I looked at their backs, a lovely tropical olive green, as they hovered.

We watched their frenetic behavior for quite a while as they foraged among the leaves. We had all seen kinglets now and then. They live in tall spruce and fir trees in Maine year-round. But they are always hard to see.

You can strain your neck trying to find them. You can hear them and not see them, due to the dense branches of evergreen needles. (Kinglets call out a high “see see see” over and over.)

Kinglets are a tiny bird, almost as tiny as a hummingbird. They are plump, looking about the same size as a greenish walnut with a short tail sticking out.

Golden-crowned kinglets are with us in all seasons. That does not preclude migration. Like chickadees, kinglets fly south. But those that nest here may winter in Massachusetts or New Jersey. Those that get counted on local Christmas bird counts may be from Canada. These migrations have been documented by banding studies.

After kinglets finish nesting and their young fledge, they gather into mixed flocks with chickadees. There is safety in numbers. It helps birds evade predators and find food.

We have had calls from people whose bird feeders are not active with birds. If feeders are clean and full, preferably with black oil sunflower seeds (not mixed feed), sooner or later, new chickadees from the north will find their feeders.

But kinglets don’t usually go to feeders. They eat the tiny eggs of insects, and insect pupae, found on needles, on branches and in cracks of bark. That food is high in food value, and nourishes kinglets and chickadees all winter.

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