April Visits from Two Little Kings

These tiny 4-inch birds, smaller than warblers, moving almost non-stop from branch to branch gleaning insects, will be passing through Eliza Howell this month. They are among the very earliest of the species that migrate through the park on their way to breeding grounds further north.

I am referring to the two species of kinglet, the Golden-crowned Kinglet and the Ruby-crowned Kinglet. “Kinglet” means “little king” and is a good translation of their Latin genus name, “Regulus.” The head markings (crown) of the Golden-crowned Kinglet are much more distinctive than those of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet. These are the only two species of kinglet in North America.

All photos below are by Margaret Weber.

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The Golden-crowned arrives first, often beginning in the first week of April, and they have all passed through by the end of the month. It can usually be identified as a kinglet by its size and behavior, and the head identifies it as Golden-crowned.

Golden-crowned Kinglets breed from the Upper Peninsula north, usually building their nests high in conifers. Detroit is at the northern edge of their winter range and I have once seen one in the park in January.

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The Ruby-crowned Kinglet arrives a little later each Spring, usually about the third week of April, and a few can be seen into early May. While they, too, can be recognized as kinglets by size and behavior, the head markings are often not noticeable. White wing bars are usually evident and the white eye ring helps to confirm their identity (taken together with the lack of a golden crown).

When seen from underneath, they do not look particularly like a little king.

ruby crowned kinglet branch

Ruby-crowns also nest from the UP north, typically in conifers.

The red crown of the male is rarely seen, only when the male is excited.

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In the Fall, both kinglets pass through Eliza Howell again, the Ruby-crowned normally starting in September and the Golden-crowned in October.

Those walking in Eliza Howell Park in April (and those coming on the nature walk on April 21) have a quite good chance of seeing one or both of these little kings on their annual spring visit.