Wild Profile: Meet the ruby-crowned kinglet

Published: May 25, 2021

A male ruby-crowned kinglet perched on a branch By Mircea Costina/Shutterstock

The ruby-crowned kinglet is a miniature king. Okay, not literally. But this species is as tiny as a hummingbird, and sports a red crown on his little head. Ruby-crowned kinglets are also nearly as swift and manoeuvrable as hummingbirds; they hover and flit constantly, catching bugs every few seconds. They’re so small and quick that they’re hard to see, but they’re easy to hear. The have a loud, spirited song. It’s rapid, high, and interspersed with repeated, distinct up-and-down notes.

If you do spot a male kinglet, you may not see his crown; it’s really only visible when he raises his feathers while courting a female, or when confronting a rival. Males don’t usually fight physically; they just brandish their crowns, and hop around. You know, menacingly. Males use a different tactic to attract females. They spread their wings, raise their tails, and call gently. See? I’m a nice guy!

Ruby-crowned kinglets are busy birds. They raise a lot of babies. Females can lay up to 12 eggs within a two-week period. One clutch weighs much more than a mother kinglet. This is why the nest she builds is 15 cm wide, out of cozy moss and lichens. She hides the nest in jumbles of spruce or fir boughs; they’re almost impossible to spot. Inside, the nest is lined with feathers. So fluffy! Baby kinglets are only about the size of a cricket. And they’re hungry. Their parents feed them more than 20 times an hour, 16 hours a day.

Ruby-crowned kinglets produce so many offspring because winter is rough on them; it can take a big toll on their numbers. They do migrate south in the fall, but sometimes it’s not far enough. Kinglets that only reach as far south as the northern U.S. don’t always survive a tough winter. On the other hand, if winter is mild, it leads to sudden population boosts. Long live the kinglets!

Want to help birds build their nests? Follow these tips

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