Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa)

By: Kristen Sweinhart

I never felt more like a Disney princess than I did that early April morning along the wooded banks of Cobus Creek in Elkhart County. It was only April 2nd and I knew that I wasn’t likely to see warblers yet aside from maybe a Yellow-rumped or an early Palm Warbler, but I showed up that day hoping that spring would show up too. A vocal Eastern Phoebe and, what I now consider to be a pretty dependable Brown Thrasher for this location, turned out to be about the only avian signs of spring that morning. But I forgot all about the promise of spring as the last lingering displays of winter warmed my heart.

As I strolled along a favorite trail, quietly observing my surroundings, I heard a high-pitched call. “Brown Creeper!” I thought to myself. I get a thrill each time I spot one of these super-camouflage tree climbers and finding one in April always feels like a bittersweet farewell. But then I heard the call again. And again. And again, quickly, from seemingly several individuals. Knowing that Brown Creepers are fairly solitary, I now anticipated a little flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets since the two species have similar call notes – similar enough that I struggle to decipher them without the help of a comparison audio recording anyway. I stood motionless, waiting. I began to see movement – flitting, flying, floating, and feeding while dangling upside down. The frequent position changes allowed me to get great, albeit brief, views of the prominent black eyebrow, white wingbar, and bright yellow mohawk on these tiny little birds.

I counted. Five here in the low shrub. Three there near the end of the branch just above my head. One there. Two waaaaay up there. Three more there. They were all around me in every direction! I wondered if one might fly down and perch on my finger for just a second. Or maybe 3 or 4 of them would tug playfully on my cape or tie my apron strings into a big fancy bow – if I had been wearing a cape like Snow White or an apron like Cinderella, that is. Being careful not to mistake the moving birds for new individuals, I counted again and again until I felt comfortable with a conservative tally of 24 Golden-crowned Kinglets. I delighted in watching these delicate little winter residents and marveled at their hardiness.

Golden-crowned Kinglets winter in much of North America including as far south as the Northeastern part of Mexico. They are very tolerant of cold temperatures, sometimes living in areas where temps drop as low as -40C at night. It is believed that the birds huddle together to keep warm and do not go into torpor. Historically, this species has spent breeding seasons in boreal forests of North America, though the breeding range has expanded to include coniferous forests of the Midwest and Appalachia as well. And on that day, they were probably fueling up before heading off to reach their breeding ground for another season of nesting.

As desperately as I had wished for spring of 2021 to come in and wipe away winter of 2020 on that day last April, the Golden-crowned Kinglets reminded me to slow down and savor all the unexpected and magical moments that birding offers us in all seasons. These birds should be arriving back in Northern Indiana to spend the winter in just a few more weeks. I hope you get the chance to enjoy them while they’re in town. Happy Birding.

Click here to learn more about the Golden-Crowned Kinglet

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