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!
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?
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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!