Golden-crowned Kinglet Dossier

by Carl Strang

Here is my dossier for another northern species which often winters in northeastern Illinois in small numbers.

Kinglet, Golden-crowned

Migrant in northern Illinois, northern Indiana. Flight has the quality of falling snowflakes. Two foraging together at Willowbrook in early 1986 gave a contact call whenever flying between trees in which they were foraging. Song jumbling, chattering in high-pitched, thin tinkling voice.

1AP87. First of year seen.

3AP87. Willowbrook. The kinglets are as acrobatic as chickadees, but less assertive and so less noticed. A male fed at edge of the stream, hopping on mud, rocks, sticks, picking at ground, snapping at air, picking tiny things from water. Crest center yellow, but parts or all became red for split-second periods, either from change in bird’s orientation to light, or from minute elevations and depressions of feathers.

10AP87. A kinglet approached within 3 feet of me, hopping on sticks low to the ground.

11AP87. Maple Grove Forest Preserve, IL: Kinglets in trees, 10-40 feet up.

15AP87. Golden-crowneds done passing through.

4NO87. A Missouri state park south of St. Louis. Golden-crowned kinglets behaving much as I have seen them in spring migrations.

16AP88. Morton Arboretum. Flock feeding in forest treetops.

29AP88. Golden-crowned kinglets still present.

15OC88. First fall migrants, Warrenville Grove Forest Preserve.

18OC88. Foraging with yellow-rumped warblers.

31MR89. First of year seen, Willowbrook Back 40.

22AP89. Both kinglet species at Willowbrook. Both using a mix of hover-gleaning and even more pursuit.

24AP89. Still there. May only use movement-contact call when scattered out. Those on 22nd, foraging in easy view of one another, weren’t using it while today they are.

17AP90. Observed at Willowbrook.

31MR99. Many kinglets foraging along stream, Willowbrook.

12AP99. Willowbrook. Golden-crowned kinglets nearly gone (saw only 1), but ruby-crowneds have arrived. Last G-crowned in spring seen on 14AP.

5OC99. First migrant of fall noted at Willowbrook. Last seen 21OC.

11MR00. First kinglet of year at Willowbrook, only 1 seen. 3-syllable high-pitched contact call distinctive [for some reason it took me this long to learn to recognize this common call].

One reason I mentioned foraging technique so often is that, according to the literature, golden-crowned kinglets reach for food from perches more, while ruby-crowneds hover-glean and use flush-and-pursuit more. These behavioral differences are consistent with slight proportional differences in wing and foot length.

26MR00. West DuPage Woods. Today they are foraging high (20+ feet up), in canopies of white oak and other forest trees. One moving steadily, with hops of 1-3 inches mainly, occasionally larger jumps between major branches and trees, both reaching and hover gleaning. Hover-gleaning pursuits of 1-2 feet. In mixed flock with creepers and 2 white-breasted nuthatches. Another kinglet moved 6″-2′ between perches, remaining 2-3 seconds per perch with head constantly turning.

27MR00. Willowbrook. A number of golden‑crowned kinglets and 3 brown creepers observed. Kinglet contact notes usually more emphatic, in groups of 3 or 4. Creeper notes similar in pitch and tone, but a little fainter, more drawn out, and single notes evenly spaced as the bird flies between trees (spacing a little greater than the notes of the kinglets).

31MR00. Waterfall Glen, beside Sawmill Creek, several golden-crowned kinglets in apparent mixed flock with brown creepers and a couple white-breasted nuthatches. One moving 4″-2′ between perches, most often around 1 foot, with occasional flycatching move but most often flying to a perch and immediately reaching for something. The reach was done with no searching after landing, and so the bird had spotted the prey and flown to it. Later, I encountered another group of kinglets with chickadees nearby. One made shorter, 1-2″ hops with much looking around, 8-10 feet up in tree. I saw no foraging moves.

1AP00. Heritage Trail, Morton Arboretum. Several in mixed flock with chickadees and a white-breasted nuthatch. High, 40-50 feet in crowns of white oaks. Kinglets moving more constantly than chickadees, with smaller hops, doing a lot of reaching for prey.

13AP00. Willowbrook. Golden-crowned kinglets and ruby-crowneds both have been at Willowbrook all week.

22AP00. Morton Arboretum. Both kinglets still present.

2AP01. First golden-crown of the year at Willowbrook.

29-31AU01. Algonquin Park, Ontario. Small groups of golden-crowned kinglets frequently encountered, one of the more commonly observed birds, easily located by their contact calls. Almost always in association with black-capped chickadees. Once or twice, perhaps, not with other birds I could see. Usually seemed to be 3-5 individuals in a group, and almost always if not always in conifers. Note: the branches are fairly dense in these forests, promoting a reaching foraging style. Are forests more open farther north, where ruby-crowneds live, so that a hover-gleaning style is favored?

1FE02. One or two feeding with chickadees at Waterfall Glen, just east of Poverty Savanna area.

18AU04. Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, Ontario. A golden-crowned kinglet showed very unusual behavior as it foraged among balsam fir branches hanging out on the trail. It did a lot of hovering just beyond the branch tips, visually scanning as it did so. Perhaps it’s a young bird that will learn to abandon this energy-wasting behavior.

9OC05. West DuPage Woods. Golden-crowned kinglets foraging in crowns of trees while ruby-crowneds are mainly within 4 feet of ground in herbs and shrubs beneath, only occasionally and briefly venturing into the lower canopies. Ruby-crowneds have a quick, chattering-quality “checkit” call. Hover-gleaning their most common foraging method today.

5-11NO05. During my southern vacation, I found golden-crowned and ruby-crowned kinglets all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

16AP09. Golden-crowned kinglet, late in migration and apparently alone, uttering a different call. Same pitch as usual, but a longer burred call much like the rougher waxwing call.


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