Meet Golden Crowned and Ruby Crowned Kinglets

Look in the treetops for ruby crowned kinglets and golden crowned kinglets during migration. Learn how to identify these tiny songbirds.

ruby crowned kingletCourtesy Toni Douglas
Ruby crowned kinglet

How to Identify a Ruby Crowned Kinglet

Question: “I discovered this bird at my suet feeder. It stayed for three days. What is it, and should it have migrated to a warmer location?” asks Toni Douglas of Oak Harbor, Ohio.

Kenn and Kimberly: What a nice find! The bird is a ruby crowned kinglet, one of the smallest songbirds in North America, barely larger than a hummingbird. The drab little ruby crowned kinglet can be confusing. It’s called “ruby crowned” because the male has red feathers on the top of his head, but these are usually hidden by other feathers. This bright red topknot of the ruby crowned can be impossible to see, and is absent in females.

ruby-crowned kinglet in autumnCourtesy Laura Frazier
Ruby crowned kinglet

Better field marks to identify this species include the tiny size, short-tailed shape, thin bill, whitish ring around the eye and double white and black bar across each wing. Kinglets are so active that it’s hard to get a good look. But you can often recognize them by their typical action of rapidly flicking their wings open and shut when they pause on a perch.

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How to Identify a Golden Crowned Kinglet

golden crowned kingletCourtesy Laura Frazier
Golden crowned kinglet

Both ruby crowned and golden crowned kinglets breed in western mountains and the boreal forests of Canada and Alaska. Golden crowneds are especially fond of conifer forests. Naturalist Ken Keffer says, “To me, the golden crowned’s yellow feathers look more like a punk rocker’s mohawk than a crown. But I’ve always admired the spunky, feisty attitudes of kinglets.”

golden crowned kingletCourtesy Peggy Helm
Golden crowned kinglet

One of the smallest songbirds in North America, the golden crowned kinglet weighs only about a fifth of an ounce, or about half as much as a black-capped chickadee. Despite their tiny size, golden crowned kinglets survive very cold weather, feeding on insect eggs and caterpillars on twigs.

Both kinglets show one obvious white wing bar that is bordered with black. The golden crowned also shows a patch that is yellow or yellow and orange. For an easier field mark, take a look at their faces. The ruby crowned has a bold white eye ring, giving it a surprised look. The golden crowned has a white eyebrow topped by a black stripe along the side of its crown.

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golden crowned kingletCourtesy Lynn Norrod
Golden crowned kinglet in January

Kinglet Migration

For many of us, both kinglet species are most visible during migration. The size of table tennis balls, they’re easy to overlook, but during the spring and fall you should be able to find them feeding on insects in the treetops. Look closely for these tiny birds that flit their wings nervously as they flutter about in foliage.

Most ruby crowned kinglets do go a little farther south for the winter, mainly to the southern U.S., with a few remaining as far north as the Great Lakes.

Did you know: Kinglets are some of the earliest migrators. Look for these birds in early spring and late fall.

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Bnbbyc16 Gary Robinette 001Courtesy Gary Robinette
Male ruby crowned kinglet

Nest and Eggs

Ruby crowned kinglets nest high in trees and can have as many as 10 to 12 eggs in a single clutch. Learn how to identify bird eggs by color and size.

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Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman
Kenn and Kimberly are the official Birds & Blooms bird experts. They are the duo behind the Kaufman Field Guide series. They speak and lead bird trips all over the world. When they're not traveling, they enjoy watching birds and other wildlife in their Northwest Ohio backyard.