ADULT DESCRIPTION: Tiny Bird, In Constant Motion
April 26, 2013 7:00 AM   Subscribe

As bird activity is ramping up in the northern hemisphere, let's take a moment to consider the tiniest of the perching birds, the Golden Crowned Kinglet. These diminutive dynamos stay constantly active to counteract the physiological challenges that come with being so very small.

Note that the kinglet's range is immense, and it is a year round resident of the cold cold north. This is remarkable, as kinglets, who often weigh less than 6 grams, must eat non-stop to maintain their high body temperature and fast metabolism even in temperate climates. Flitting about in subzero temperatures with the mass to surface area ratio of a kinglet means the rate of heat loss is much higher than a brobdingnagian robin or cardinal, some of whom, incidentally, you can sometimes find just loafing around on a winter's day. Not so for the industrious kinglet.
Life on this extreme end of the size spectrum is tough, and kinglets have a yearly survival rate of just 20%. But they are prodigious breeders and are not at all endangered.
Bernd Heinrich has made some detailed observations of kinglets in the Maine woods, presented in Winter World, as well as some cute drawings of cuddling kinglets.
posted by Cold Lurkey (10 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
That retractable mohawk is amazing.
posted by Kabanos at 7:07 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is great - I love the tiny birds that seem to operate with an entirely different scale of time... I always wonder if the rest of the world just seems SO SLOOOOOW to them.

It always looks like their movements are more of a trans-dimensional warp, and I expect to hear the crackle of air rushing into the vacuum left behind.
posted by MysticMCJ at 7:09 AM on April 26, 2013

Kinglets are the best! They are in my top three favourite birds for sure.

Their activity level is really just amazing. They just go and go and go. They're like chickadees but even smaller. I love those teeny tough birds.

Also, their names are great. Not just plain Red-cockaded or Red-capped or even Red-polled, Ruby-crowned (the [sister?] taxa to the Golden-crowned). Whoever named them thought they were regal. Little tiny guys! Their Latin genus name is Regulus!

Love them.

Sorry about the exclamation points.
posted by hydrobatidae at 7:36 AM on April 26, 2013 [9 favorites]

Heinrich's book is really good, I highly recommend it!
posted by billcicletta at 7:38 AM on April 26, 2013

Sure they might seem cute to us, but northern colonies of fairies (esp. paper sprites) and talking insects alike must remain constantly vigilant against these voracious carnivores.
posted by JHarris at 8:02 AM on April 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Heinrich's book is indeed really good. The sections about the Kinglets is amazing, but there's a lot of borderline unbelievable stuff about all kinds of other animals and their winter survival strategies. Nature is a mad genius.
posted by that's candlepin at 8:11 AM on April 26, 2013

I've never seen one, but if this comment from above is true, "They're like chickadees but even smaller." Then I already love them. Chickadees are amongst my favorite creatures in the world. This bodes well for the little Kinglets.
posted by Atreides at 8:29 AM on April 26, 2013

Early springtime in Ontario you sometimes see a flock of kinglets hopping/flying like a bunch of leaves caught in a gust of wind. They make this chiming noise as the move and they are so! tiny! The tree in our front garden was full of these tiny birdlets once, and I was glad.
posted by scruss at 10:42 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

One was flirting with my wife and I the other day on our walk home after a run. It would flit from the tree hover in front of us for a moment and then return to the tree. I think it is was a our bright yellow running jackets that attracted it.

Still no match for the goldfinch though which torments me with its call "potato chip, potato chip, potato chip'
posted by srboisvert at 10:50 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Kinglets are the president of birds. It's a toss-up between them and bushtits as to which is objectively cuter. I see Ruby-crowned ones more often, and when you get that flash of red from a displaying male, it's remarkable. (going through my Flickr favorites to find a good one, realized a good 25% of my faves are kinglets or goldcrests...)

Also a very good book dedicated to just Golden-crowned Kinglets, without a doubt the sweetest Valentine's Day present I've ever received.
posted by cRamsay at 1:55 PM on April 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

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