Ruby-crowned Kinglet

March 28th, 2020: Back in Vancouver!

I’m happy to be back in Vancouver, even if I do need to remain isolated. We got back to Canada early enough that they didn’t require us to stay indoors at all times. So I was able to responsibly go for walks, including to my neighbourhood park!

A cherry in bloom
The cherries are blooming!

I was happy to get to Queen Elizabeth Park this week (only a 20-minute walk from me) and very pleased to see my friendly neighbourhood birds. Sure those New Zealand endemics were cool, but I wondered how the ever-present kinglets are doing in the conifers at the beginning of my usual route around QE?

Golden-crowned Kinglet
Golden-crowned Kinglet

They were doing fine, it turned out! And starting to gear up for spring too. We have Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglet year-round in Vancouver, but they don’t generally sing in the winter.

I love Ruby-crowned Kinglets. If you didn’t know better, you’d think they were nuts. They flick their wings and bounce from branch to branch incessantly, feeding all the while.

A typical photo of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet
A typical photo of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglets build almost spherical nests in trees. Nests are only about 4–6 inches across, but females can actually lay up to 12 eggs.

This Ruby-crowned Kinglet actually stopped for half a second
This Ruby-crowned Kinglet actually stopped for half a second

Some of the Ruby-crowns were already singing. In just a few weeks, QE will be absolutely teeming with Ruby-crowned Kinglets. First the males, with their glorious crowns and cheerful song. They’re rushing to establish their breeding territories in northern Canada, in western mountains, and all the way up to Alaska! Then the females pass through in a wave a few days later. (Warblers tend to arrive in larger numbers in the immediately subsequent waves.)

Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet

And they might not seem like much to look at, but catch them in your bins and there’s lots to see. First impressions are green-gray overall, sure. But their slender insect-gleaning bills, wing bars, and eye-ring keep them from being dull. Additionally, Ruby-crowned Kinglets are quite similar to Hutton’s Vireos. The two species present quite an ID challenge to birders.

Hutton's Vireo
Hutton’s Vireo

I use three primary indicators to quickly differentiate between Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Hutton’s Vireo. 1) Bill: Ruby-crowned Kinglets have a very thin black bill; Hutton’s Vireos have a more robust, thicker, and lighter bill. 2) Colour under the second wing bar (the biggest wing bar): Ruby-crowned Kinglets have substantial and conspicuous black beneath the strong wing bar; Hutton’s Vireos are missing this. 3) Is the bird moving really quickly all over the place, foraging continuously and flicking its wings like it’s crazy? If so, it’s a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

Can you tell which?
So…which one is this?

I didn’t see anything beyond the usual suspects during my 45-minute walk around parts of the park today. But it’s good to be home (eBird list). This place will be hopping in a few weeks!

Song helps too, of course: if it’s singing the same strident, short notes repeatedly (and staying in one place), it’s a Hutton’s Vireo. Ruby-Crowned Kinglets have a short jid-dit call and a more tuneful song that descends after three or more repeated pitched.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. melissa hafting

    I love HUVIS recently found a HUVI nest and now the bambinos have pretty much fledged 🙂

    1. Jim Palmer

      Always good to hear of a successful fledge!

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