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Blane Klemek column: The ruby-crowned kinglet and family memories

My daughter Emily sent me a text on Apr. 26, telling me about her experience with a ruby-crowned kinglet.

Emily's kinglet.jpg
Ruby-crowned kinglet
Contributed / Emitl Klemek

My daughter Emily sent me a text on Apr. 26, telling me about her experience with a ruby-crowned kinglet. She wrote:

“I hung out with a little kinglet at work today after it had taken a gnarly bump to the head. Smacked right into the window that I was standing in front of and scared the heck out of me. It certainly didn't seem interested in leaving my warm hands and snuggled into my hair and chest while being held. Little buddy finally flew away after almost forty-five minutes. I forget how tiny birds can be, this little one was only about the size of a golf ball when all curled up to hide from the wind.”

She already had me with her description of the experience and the photo she took of her kinglet encounter. Then she added:

“Made me think of you and all of the awesome animal encounters we’ve had over the years. Love you Dad.”

Sigh. I wrote back:


“This melts my heart. You are so good and kind with animals. You're the kinglet whisperer. Isn't it special to hold a tiny bird in your hands? You've been blessed. And so was the little kinglet. Without you, it wouldn't have survived. Ruby-crowned kinglets are among my favorite birds. You wouldn't believe the big voice they have. The male sings the most beautiful song. Google ruby-crowned kinglet song. Believe it or not, as I sit here on the deck writing to you right now, I can hear one singing. Love you, ‘Punk!” 

The ruby-crowned kinglet is one of our tiniest birds at not much more than four inches long from beak to tail. It sings one of the heartiest of all songs at scarcely a quarter ounce in weight.

Interestingly, for such pint-size proportions, female ruby-crowned kinglets lay one of the largest clutches of eggs. Clutch sizes average eight eggs to as many as twelve eggs in a nest.

Male ruby-crowned kinglets like to sing their lively three-part song from lofty perches. The song begins with a few high-pitched "tsee" notes, followed by a half-dozen or so lower-pitched "churr" notes, and culminates with a beautifully rich and rolling string of warbled phrases. His magnificent and beautiful song is sung repeatedly and tirelessly.

If you hear the song of a ruby-crowned kinglet, stop and remain very still. The chances are good that you'll hear its music again and maybe even observe him singing. But think small and look high when you search. In fact, now and until leaf-out is the best time for keeping these and other neotropical migrant songbirds within their preferred mixed deciduous-coniferous forest habitats.

Ruby-crowned kinglets are aptly named due to the distinctive color of their crowns. In fact, it's a diagnostic trait that aids in positive identification. Don't expect to see the red top of the ruby-crowned kinglet very easily because it's almost invisible unless the male raises its head feathers to expose the scarlet patch. He does this when he's agitated, as when he defends his territory and while he sings. Otherwise, the plumage coloration of ruby-crowned kinglets is rather drab. They resemble flycatchers and vireos in color, size, and behavior.

The diet of ruby-crowned kinglets is almost exclusively insects such as ants and flying insects. Other prey items include spiders, insect eggs and some seeds and fruit are also consumed. It's very common to observe kinglets hovering and gleaning insects from the ends of branches and between the needles of conifers as they flit about like tiny, feathered darts searching for food.

Aside from their small size, other notable features of ruby-crowned kinglets include both physical and behavioral traits. You'll immediately recognize a greenish and gray-colored bird as being smaller than warblers and chickadees. You'll also note that the species rarely sits still for long.


High-strung and energetic, ruby-crowned kinglets are constantly on the move and only stop to sing and roost while flicking their wings wherever they go. Their white eye-ring, white bars on their wings, and of course, the normally hidden bright red crown of the male are all common features of this extraordinary wild bird.

Indeed, as my daughter recently discovered, we can count our blessings to be living in a place with such abundant diversity of wild birds and habitats as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.

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