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Ruby-crowned Kinglet: Identification and Behavior

December 16, 2021

The Ruby-crowned Kinglet is a small, sparrow-sized bird that breeds in the coniferous forests of North America. The Ruby-crowned Kinglet has a distinctive song that starts out soft and ends loud and on a high note. Ruby-crowned Kinglets are also quick to flash their ruby crowns when excited - an act which can be observed by looking for the white eye ring.

Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren - 21 October 2016, 16:53

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Although Ruby-crowned Kinglets live in many habitats, they prefer to stay near dense shrubs low to the ground during migrations as well as breeding season. Since 1966, the number of ruby-crowned kinglets in North America has been estimated to be large, safe and constant. Wildfires and deforestation are minor threats to their survival.

Even though kinglets seldom go near bird feeders, if there are berries, tiny nuts or suet available, they may use them. It's always a thrill to see a ruby-crowned kinglet in the backyard. Although a few of these tiny birds can be observed in the yard throughout the winter, they only occasionally visit our feeders. We have never seen more than one ruby-crowned kinglet at once dining on food at any one time. It's difficult to tell whether you're feeding one Kinglet or many individuals throughout the day.

NPS / Jacob W. Frank - 2018

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Ruby-crowned Kinglet Facts:

  • How do kinglets hunt insects?

They flutter their wings quickly and scurry through thick vegetation in search of the next insect or spider to eat. The “flicking of the wings” is used as a method to frighten insects away. When the bugs are startled, the Ruby-crowned Kinglet attacks.

  • Are kinglets good parents?

Yes, they do a pretty good job parenting! Kinglets are monogamous during the mating season. During this time, the males do most of the hunting, while the females construct the nest. Each year, couples have one brood. The eggs are incubated for 12-14 days before hatching. After that, both mom and dad participate in feeding for another 10-15 days before the fledglings depart from the nest.

  • What does kinglet mean?

A kinglet is a pejorative term for a minor king as described in the Oxford English Dictionary. The Latin name of the ruby-crowned kinglet is "Regulus calendula." "Regulus" refers to a tiny king. It refers to the red patch on top of the male's head, which resembles a crown.

  • Who is the kinglet's predator?

Squirrels, owls, hawks, jays, merlins, and magpies are some of the predators that prey on ruby-crowned kinglets.

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Male Identification: Small green to grayish bird with a red crown patch on the head. A white eye ring is present. The ruby crown of males is hidden during courtship or displaying to a female mate during the breeding season. Brown, grayish wings with white bars and yellowish edging on tail feathers (white rump).

Kenneth Cole Schneider - April 14, 2010

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Female Identification: The females of the ruby-crowned kinglet appear identical to males, with the exception of their crowns. Some believe that female kinglet wing feathers have a duller yellowish border than their male counterparts. Apart from these small differences, the female kinglet has an obvious white eye-ring. These birds may be identified by the eye-ring, olive plumage, and tear form.

Kevin Milazzo - January 8, 2021

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Migration Patterns: Complete to partial migrator, from Pacific Northwest, to southern states, and down to Mexico and Central America.  Ruby crowns are present during the spring and autumn migrations.

Nesting Season: Ruby Crowned Kinglets breed in late April to early May, with eggs hatching around mid-May or June. Ruby-crowned kinglet nests may be found in coniferous trees, thick shrubs low to the ground, tall grasses near forests edges, berry tangles within deciduous tree branches, fence lines near forest areas where vegetation is dense enough for protection from predators while also allowing Ruby-crowned Kinglets easy access back into the canopy of surrounding trees after being out on long hunting trips. Ruby-Crowned Kinglets usually have two broods per year because they will build a new nest before laying their first clutch of eggs. Ruby-crowned kinglet nests are very intricate with a wide variety of materials such as lichens, twigs, spiderwebs and mosses. Ruby Crowns can be found during their breeding season from April to early May.

Related: How Do Birds Provide Ecosystems Services?

Dewhurst Donna, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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Nest Location: Ruby crowns will build their nests in coniferous trees, thick shrubs low to the ground, tall grasses near forests edges, berry tangles within deciduous tree branches or fence lines near forest areas where vegetation is dense enough for protection from predators while also allowing Ruby-Crowned Kinglets easy access back into the canopy of surrounding trees after being out on long hunting trips.

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