by Alex Forsythe
Quick! Identify this bird! Is it a Ruby-crowned Kinglet? Or a Cuvier’s Kinglet?
If you have never heard of a Cuvier’s Kinglet, there’s a good reason. While John James Audubon claims to have shot one in 1812 in Pennsylvania and included a painting of it in his “Birds of America” book, there is no evidence that such a bird ever existed. His painting appears to be a hybrid of a Ruby-crowned and a Golden-crowned Kinglet, with the dark head stripes of a Golden-crowned combined with the red crown of the Ruby-crowned. Was it a hybrid? A now-extinct species? Or did Audubon make a mistake? We may never know.
What we do know is that this tiny bird can be found across North America, from their breeding areas in northern North America to their winter grounds in the southern states. We also know that despite their diminutive size, they lay a lot of eggs: up to 12 per nest! Even though they have a curious habit of flicking their wings almost constantly, they only burn about 10 calories per day (“The Boreal Ecosystem”, James A. Larsen, p. 395 (2013)). According to the Chipper Woods Bird Observatory, over 325,000 Ruby-crowned Kinglets were banded between 1955 and 2000, but only about 120 have been recaptured. The oldest to be recaptured was a female in California that was at least 4 years, 7 months old.
The Kinglet in the attached photo was at the Indiana Dunes State Park – one of the best places in Indiana to spot a wide variety of birds. My favorite time to visit the Dunes is during the birding conference. This year the Indiana Dunes Birding Festival will take place from May 4-7, which unfortunately interferes with my college exams and my work schedule, but it is at the height of migration and attracts an almost absurd number of birds in both volume and variety. Brad Bumgardner puts together one of the best birding conferences in the U.S. with outstanding field trips, knowledgeable speakers, fantastic workshops, and even fun evening events after a satisfying day of birding and learning. There’s something for everyone, from novice to expert. Check out the Indiana Dunes Bird Festival. It is a great conference. I will really miss being there!