Kinglets are tiny yet fascinating birds that belong to the family Regulidae. Known for their distinctive physical characteristics and energy, these small forest-dwelling birds can be elusive and are often heard more than seen.
There are six species of kinglets, two of which live in North America, and each of which have unique traits and behaviors that make for an interesting study for bird watchers and ornithologists alike.
Without further ado, let’s talk about the different types of kinglets, what sets them apart, and how to identify them.
- Kinglets belong to the Regulidae family and comprise over six species with varying characteristics.
- These small forest birds often have green-gray plumage and distinct crown patches in gold or ruby.
- Kinglets can be found in habitats ranging from dense coniferous forests to other parts of North America and Europe.
The Kinglet Family
Kinglets belong to the family Regulidae, which consists of small, active songbirds with unique characteristics.
Kinglets showcase a delicate and compact body shape with relatively short tails and a rounded appearance. They measure about 3 to 4 inches in length and weigh only around 5 to 10 grams.
Their thin bills are perfect for picking insects from branches and leaves, and their wings are rounded to make them agile and swift flyers.
To identify kinglets, pay close attention to their coloring and size. Typically, these birds are greenish-gray with distinctive white wing bars and, in some species, eye rings.
One notable feature of male kinglets is their bright crown patch, which is often hidden but may be displayed during courtship or aggressively threatening displays.
This bird is nearly constantly flicking its wings as it searches for food in lower branches of shrubs and trees.
In fact, this is an important behavioral clue that sets kinglets apart from other bird species and can help you identify them.
Kinglets of North America
Within the family Regulidae, two of the most common types include the Golden-crowned Kinglet (R. regulus) and the Ruby-crowned Kinglet (R. calendula).
Read Next: How to Attract Ruby-Crowned Kinglets
The Ruby-Crowned Kinglet is a tiny passerine bird found throughout North America. Along with the Golden-Crowned Kinglet, it’s actually one of the tiniest songbirds in North America.
This little bird has olive-green plumage with two white wing bars and a white eye-ring.
Males have a red crown patch, although this is usually concealed, which means you can’t always rely on this characteristic to identify these birds.
The Ruby-Crowned Kinglet is found in open deciduous woods, coniferous forests, and mixed-wood habitats.
It’s often hard to see in summer when it lives high in tall conifers. But in migration and winter, it’s more commonly seen flitting about low in woods and thickets.
Here are the distinctive features of a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet to help you identify them:
- A prominent red crown only visible when raised, mainly on males
- Thin dark bill, similar to Golden-crowned Kinglet
- An eyering, unlike the Golden-crowned Kinglet
The Golden-Crowned Kinglet has olive-gray plumage on its upper body, white underneath, white wing bars, and a black stripe through the eyes.
The bird is named for its bright orange-yellow feathers that crown its black-and-white-striped head.
The male Golden-Crowned Kinglet displays an eye-catching orange color in the center of the crown when displaying aggression or courtship.
This species prefers dense coniferous habitats and has the ability to survive the cold climates in northern forests. Amazingly, it can survive extremely cold temperatures as low as -40 degrees Celsius.
The bird is a member of the kinglet family and is one of the smallest perching birds in the world, weighing only about five grams.
To differentiate this species from its Ruby-Crowned counterpart, take note of the following characteristics:
- A gold or yellow crown bordered with black, visible on both sexes
- Black-and-white stripes on the face, unlike the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet
- Thin dark bill, like the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet
Other Kinglet Species
Chiefly found in Eurasia, Goldcrests are related to North American kinglets.
They possess features like:
- Crown patches with black borders, resembling those of Golden-Crowned Kinglets
- The male’s crown patch is red, while the female’s is yellow
- Often considered the same species as Golden-Crowned Kinglet due to shared traits
This species inhabits Eurasia and bears resemblance to the Goldcrest, including:
- An ornate head pattern with black, white, and yellow stripes
- A vibrant orange crest on males
- Similar size and shape to other kinglet species
Found only on the island of Madeira, the Madeira Firecrest kinglet is characterized by the following:
- A distinctive orange crest on the head
- Olive-green upperparts with a bronze-colored patch on each shoulder
- Whitish underneath washed with brownish-gray on the breast and flanks
- Two white wingbars, a tiny black bill, and brownish-black legs
The Flamecrest kinglet lives in the Taiwanese mountains.
It can be identified by:
- A black and white striped head with a yellow crest on females and an orange-centered yellow crest on males
- Olive-green upperparts with a yellowish-green rump and a white belly
- Two white wingbars, a thin black bill, and black legs
Distribution and Habitat
Range of Kinglets
Kinglets can be found across North America and Eurasia, with two species in each continent having considerable shared ranges.
The Golden-Crowned Kinglet is found throughout North America, from Alaska to Mexico, while the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet is found in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
Both species are migratory and spend their winters in the southern United States, Mexico, and Central America.
In Eurasia, there are several species of kinglets: the Goldcrest, the Common Firecrest, the Madeira Firecrest, and the Flamecrest.
These species are found throughout Europe, Asia, and North Africa, with some species being resident and others being migratory.
When it comes to selecting their habitat, kinglets have a preference for certain types of forests, particularly coniferous and deciduous habitats in northern regions.
The following are some of the habitats kinglets typically, although not exclusively, occupy:
- Coniferous forests: Kinglets, such as the Golden-Crowned Kinglet, favor dense coniferous forests, as these provide shelter from the cold and better camouflage for the birds.
- Deciduous forests: Some species, like the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, prefer deciduous forests, where they can take advantage of various food sources and more diverse environments.
- Northern forests: Many kinglet species are capable of enduring cold climates and can be found nesting in northern forests, both in North America and Europe.
Insects in Kinglets’ Diet
Kinglets depend on a diverse range of insects for nourishment. As insectivores, they’ll eat aphids, caterpillars, beetles, and also spiders.
Their diet doesn’t stop there, though. Kinglets also consume various insect and spider eggs, ensuring they have a well-rounded meal.
One notable characteristic of kinglets’ feeding habits is their ability to adapt to the availability of their prey.
This means that during different seasons, they’ll focus on consuming whichever insects are most abundant in their environment.
For instance, they may munch on leafhoppers, true bugs, or flies during specific periods throughout the year.
These tiny birds are efficient in seeking out and feasting on the most accessible insect populations to maintain their high energy levels.
Role of Trees and Sap in the Kinglet Diet
In addition to their primarily insect-based diet, kinglets are known to occasionally feed on oozing sap from trees. They find nourishment in this sweet liquid extracted from the tree bark.
While it’s a rare occurrence, it illustrates the kinglets’ adaptability when it comes to searching for food sources.
Additionally, berries and seeds may sometimes appear on the kinglet menu, particularly in the winter when insects might be scarce.
Kinglets exhibit active feeding behaviors as they thrive on insects and other small creatures found in trees and shrubs.
The way these tiny birds forage is quite unique; they tend to hover and fly to catch their prey as well as hang upside down while searching for food in foliage and branches, often flicking their wings to help locate food.
As a result, they are constantly on the move, never allowing themselves to stay idle for too long.
When it comes to nesting, kinglets prefer to build their nests in dense coniferous forests, which provide better shelter from harsh weather conditions.
They craft their nests with a combination of materials, such as moss, twigs, lichen, and bark strips, to create a comfortable and sturdy home for their offspring.
As you observe these tiny birds, you’ll notice that they often place their nests high up in trees, secured to branches to keep them safe from predators.
Eggs and Incubation
Kinglets’ eggs play an essential role in their reproductive process.
Female kinglets typically lay between 7-8 eggs at a time, although this can sometimes vary, with the number of eggs ranging from 4-9 or even 7-12 in the case of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet in the Pacific Northwest.
These eggs are incubated by the female for a certain period needed for the embryos to develop properly.
Throughout the incubation period, the female kinglet will fiercely protect the eggs, often sitting on them to keep them warm and to maintain the proper temperature necessary for successful development.
Additionally, the male kinglet takes charge of providing the nourishment needed by the family during this critical time.
Kinglets in Bird-Watching
Bird-Watching with eBird
Kinglets are tiny, energetic birds that can be a delightful addition to your bird-watching adventures.
To help track and identify kinglets more easily, you can use eBird, a platform by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. By using eBird, you’ll be able to:
- Record your bird sightings
- Access detailed bird distribution maps
- Receive personalized bird alerts
- Contribute data to a vast bird-tracking community
National Audubon Society Resources
The National Audubon Society is a great resource for bird enthusiasts and offers various tools to enhance your bird-watching experience. Here are a few resources available:
- Field Guides: Illustrated guides by experts such as David Allen Sibley and Kenn Kaufman can help you identify kinglets. These guides usually include information on habitats, behavior, and appearance.
- Online Bird Guide: The Golden-crowned Kinglet and Ruby-crowned Kinglet can be found in the online bird guide. This resource provides images, bird calls, and habits to help with identification.
- Lives of North American Birds: This comprehensive resource delves into the life histories of birds, including kinglets. You’ll gain in-depth knowledge of their habitats, nesting habits, diet, and more.
Frequently Asked Questions
What distinguishes male and female Golden-Crowned kinglets?
The main difference between male and female Golden-Crowned kinglets lies in the color of their crown patch.
In males, the crown is a vibrant red, while in females, it is a more subtle yellow color.
Additionally, the crown patches in both sexes are strikingly bordered with black, which makes the colors stand out even more (source).
How does the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet differ from the Golden-Crowned Kinglet?
There are two key differences between Ruby-Crowned and Golden-Crowned Kinglets.
First, the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet has a red crest instead of the golden-yellow one found in Golden-Crowned Kinglets.
Second, Ruby-Crowned Kinglets differ in habitat preference, choosing different types of forests to reside in compared to their Golden-Crowned counterparts (source).
What are some birds similar to kinglets?
Kinglets are sometimes included in the Old World warblers group due to their similar appearance.
However, they are often given their own family status, as research shows that these birds are phylogenetically distinct from warblers despite their superficial similarities (source).
How do Hutton’s Vireos and Ruby-Crowned Kinglets differ?
While Hutton’s Vireos and Ruby-Crowned Kinglets share some physical similarities, they are different species. Hutton’s Vireos belong to the Vireonidae family, whereas Ruby-Crowned Kinglets are part of the Regulidae family.
Hutton’s Vireos have a thicker bill and shorter tail compared to the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, which helps in distinguishing the two species.
What is the nesting behavior of Golden-Crowned Kinglets?
Golden-Crowned Kinglets build their nests high up in dense spruce or fir foliage, which can make observing them challenging.
These birds exhibit incredible resilience in harsh weather conditions, capable of surviving frigid temperatures as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit (source).
To locate their nests, listen for their distinctive high, thin call notes and songs.