Birds: Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

It is labeled as an “Old World Warbler” in John Terres’ The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds (Knopf, NY 1980) and what a cute little bird it is! The Kinglets are small, active, insect-eating birds unrelated to the typical Wood Warblers of America. Falling into somewhat of a No Bird’s Land, neither are they closely related to the Gnatcatchers, with their long tails. The Kinglets seem to be more related to the flycatchers and thrushes, only a lot smaller. Flitting around our compost pile, snatching bugs out of the air, and grooming evergreen spikes on our Douglas Fir, freeing it from gnats, the Kinglet is such fun to watch. It is a mini member of the bird world and full of surprises for the patient birdwatcher.


Regulus calendula is a bird with a beautiful dark black eye. Encircled with a white eye ring, it is the eye that I noticed first. The black of the eye and the eye ring give the viewer the feeling that the kinglet is staring right at you. Then comes the color, a cross between olive and yellow, it is tamer on the female and crisper on the male. Last, but not least, is the crown. Hard to spot, unless the bird is right up close, the crown is a striking streak of red that peaks out from the top of his head.

Golden-crowned Kinglet, Franklin Co., OH October 4, 2011 (1)

Golden Crowned Kinglet

Even with strong binoculars it is easy to miss the crown and confuse the ruby-crowned with the golden-crowned species. The red looks like a mistake, as if someone cut the bird in the head with a tiny hatchet and left it’s crown bleeding. The red, when it comes into view, seems incongruous with the buff/green head color.


An acrobatic flier, it is fun to watch the Kinglet maneuver the tall trees, flitting from branch to branch in search of the next morsel. The bird is able to hand from the tips of branches or hover over a twig in search of food. I have also spotted it hopping on the ground, so it is not averse to searching amidst the needles and leaves for a stray bug or two. The picture below is attributed to Hugh Vandervoort, who got a great shot of the Kinglet foraging in mid-flight.

Ruby-Crowned-Kinglet-71 by hugh vandervoortKinglet in mid-flight by Hugh Vandervoort

The song of the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet might be one of its most remarkable qualities of this bird. Hearing it is like listening to a small bird speaking in defense of the Thirteen Colonies versus England: Liberty, liberty, liberty! in full melodic rendition of the call. The bird also seems to sing like a wren with a cack or a lisping zhi-dit, zhi-dit slipping out sporatically.

The first time I spotted a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet was in Colorado more than 30 years ago. Our family was skiing in Steamboat Springs and my brother-in-law, Mike LaFontaine, and I were cross-country skiing that day for a break from multiple tumbles on the downhill slopes. Many inches of snow fell, and the quiet of the spruce surrounded us. We took a rest, sipped some water, and listened to the power of the silence. Gently breaking the calm was the persistent cack and zhi-dit sound coming from the branches above us. Pulling out binoculars, there was this cute yellow-green bird hanging upside down and eating away. He seemed to be having the best time. And so did we, while spotting and admiring this acrobatic beauty.

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