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Bird Vocalization of the Month: Ruby-crowned Kinglet

by ocarmi on Jan. 28th, 2009 No Comments

January species: Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Scientific name: Regulus calendula
Vocalization: Song & Chattering Call
Extra Resource: Answers to some common questions
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ruby-crowned kinglet
Photo credit: ScottStudio Photography
A frequent goal of many beginner birdwatchers is to see a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a tiny bird that makes its home in the Bay Area during the winter. Being small, drab in color, and very quick, this bird is at first difficult to find, especially since it tends to forage in dense vegetation. However, once people learn to recognize its distinctive, and rather loud, call, they find out that the Ruby-crowned Kinglet is indeed a very, very common bird!

The call of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet may be described as a mechanical chatter: “ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch…”

Less frequently, when they are defending their foraging territories in the fall and winter, or when hormonal changes gear them up for courtship in the spring, males may be heard singing. The song of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet begins with a series of high-pitched whistles, and continues with a bubbly, melodious, rising jumble. It is often sung several times in succession. The All About Birds website of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology includes a recording of vocalizations of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet which begins with several iterations of the song and ends with the chattering call — the call that should enable eager birdwatchers to locate this bird!

Unlike many other small birds in the Bay Area, which form flocks in winter, sometimes with other species, the Ruby-crowned Kinglet is fiercely independent, and will defend winter territories against neighboring Ruby-crowned Kinglets. It is then that one may hear the call and the song of this bird, and that the bird may even expose the ruby crown for which it is named in all its full glory!

I remember once, while birdwatching with some friends, chancing across a late-migrating mixed-species flock in early May that included seventeen Ruby-crowned Kinglets, all chattering, perhaps unhappily at being forced into the company of so many of their conspecifics!

Your homework assignment: Listen to the recording at least 3 times. Keep your ears pricked for the song or call during this winter season, since Ruby-crowned Kinglets are generally gone from the Bay Area by the end of April.

Extra credit: Check out the answers to some common questions about this species, which would surely interest your students!

ruby-crowned kinglet
Photo credit: Dr. Gary Ashley

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