Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.
Bent Life History for the Ruby-crowned Kinglet - the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.
EASTERN RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET
REGULUS CALENDULA CALENDULA (Linnaeus)
The ruby-crowned kinglet is not brilliantly colored, for it is clad in soft olive and gray, but it is a dainty little bird with attractive manners; only whcn it shows its red crown-patch under excitement is there any brilliancy in its plumage, but when it bursts into its marvelous song it ranks as one of our most brilliant songsters. What it lacks in color it makes up for in music.
It ranges much farther north in summer and goes farther south in winter than the golden-crowned kinglet, breeding from northwestern Alaska down through the Rocky Mountains to Arizona and ~ ew Mexico, and in eastern Canada as far south as Nova Scotia. rhere are also breeding records for Michigan and Maine and indicated breeding in Massachusetts.
I found the ruby-crowned kinglet breeding in some very attractive hillside woods back of Bay of Islands, Newfoundland. It was rather an open tract of mixed woods consisting mostly of fir balsams, with some red and white spruces, larches, and white pines and a sprinkling of canoe birches, black birches, and mountain-ash. Amelar&chier and Rlzodora were in bloom, and the blossoms on the Arbutu.s were larger and whiter than we see them at home. The kinglets were in full song, adding much to the beauty of their surroundings.
Dr. Paul Harrington writes to me that., in the vicinity of Toronto, Ontario, "the ruby-crowned kinglet is a typical bird of the black spruce bogs, and it is only on rare occasions that this bird is found out of these regions in the breeding season."
Bagg and Eliot (1937) record the almost certain breeding of this kinglet at Savoy, Mass. William J. Cartwrigbt had seen the kinglets feeding their young in a grove of spruce at the top of a hill on July 5, 1915; there was a flock of about 20, including old and young, evidently two families. On July 19, 1920, he again found six in the same grove of spruces. And Mr. Bagg adds: "Visiting this hill-top with Mr. Cartwright early on July 3,1932, Mr. H. E. Woods and I both had the thrill of seeing a Ruby-top feed an out-of-the-nest fledgling and in the act erect its crown-spot. None, however, could be found on June 11, 1933, and the old spruces are dying and fast being removed by the State Forest authorities." (See also Bagg, 1932, p. 486.)
The ruby-crowned kinglet undoubtedly breeds more or less rarely in Maine, where the dense woods of mixed spruces and fir balsam often extend quite down to the coast. Ora W. IInight (1908) mentions watching a pair building a nest in deep woods of this type near Orono.
Aretas A. Saunders tells me that, in Montana, the ruby-crowned kinglet is confined to the forests of Douglas fir, while the goldencrowned kinglet inhabits the spruce forests.
Spring: The spring migration of the ruby-crowned is more conspicuous than that of the golden-crowned kinglet. It has much farther to go, as it winters farther south and breeds farther north. It sings on migration, not the full, rich song that one hears on its northern breeding grounds, but pleasing enough to attract attention. It travels singly or in small groups, sometimes as many as 20 or more, and is often associated with migrating warblers. Throughout most of the United States it occurs mainly as a migrant in spring and fall. In Massachusetts it passes through in April and the first half of May. Then we need not look for it in coniferous woods only, for it is likely to be found almost anywhere; its favorite haunts are the swampy thickets along streams, or around ponds or bogs; but it is sometimes seen in the trees and shrubbery about our houses and gardens; and when we see it pouring out its charming song .~mong the apple blossoms in the orchard, then we enjoy one of the greatest delights of the spring migration.
In Ohio the first arrivals come early in April, but Milten B. Trautman (1940) says that, at Buckeye Lake, "the species remained uncommon until mid-April, when the numbers rapidly increased, and from April 20 to May 10 the greatest daily numbers, 15 to 40, were attained. As many as 60 a day were noted during large flights. The last transients were seen between May 14 and 18. * * * As with the Golden-crowned Kinglet, this species chiefly inhabited woodlands, thickets, and brushy fence rows, and in such situations was found most frequently where there were dense clumps of hawthorn, wild plum, honey locust, and osage orange. The bird appeared to be less numerous in this area than it was in other localities of similar size in central Ohio; it was decidedly less numerous than it was in localities which contained many conifers."
Courtship: This seems to consist mainly of the display between rival males of the flaming red crest, which is usually partially concealed or at least restricted by the surrounding dull feathers of the crown, but which can be uncovered or perhaps erected in the ardor of courtship or in the anger of combat. John Burroughs (Far and Near, pp. 178: 179) thus describes such rivalry between two males: "They behaved exactly as if they were comparing crowns, and each extolling his own. Their heads were bent forward, the red crown patch uncovered end showing as a large, brilliant cap, their tails spread out, and the side feathers below the wings were fluffed out. They did not come to blows, but followed each other about amid the branches, uttering their thin, shrill notes, and displaying their ruby crowns to the utmost."
It would not be surprising if rivalry in song were also one of the features in the contest for supremacy.
Nesting: So far as I can learn, the nests of the ruby-crowned kinglet are always built in coniferous trees, generally in spruces, sometimes in firs, and more rarely in some of the western pines. They are placed at various heights from the ground, from 2 to 100 feet; a number of nests have been found at 50 or 00 feet, many between 15 and 30, and comparatively few below 15 feet. Winton Weydemeyer (1923) reports a Montana nest in an unusual location; it "was about fifty feet from the base of a partly~ fallen spruce, * * * fourteen feet from the ground, and eighteen inches from the end of a seven-foot branch extending downward from the trunk."
Most of the nests reported have been attached to the pendant twigs beneath tha branch of a spruce, well concealed among the twigs, partially or wholly pensile, and usually near the end of the branch where the foliage is thickest; but very rarely the ncst may be placed on a branch; W. L. Sciater (1912) states, probably on the authority of Denis Gale, who found a number of nests in the mountains of Colorado, that the nests are "sometimes simply saddled on a horizontal bough." The nest that I found in N ewfoundland was only 8 feet from the ground in a spruce, suspended between two drooping branches, or rather large twigs; the tree stood in a rather open situation; it contained no eggs on June 5, but Edward Arnold collected a set from it later. The lowest nest reported was found by Maj. Allan Brooks (1903) in the Cariboo District of British Columbia; it was "in a small spruce not four feet high; the nest was close to the stem and about two feet from the ground; it was a very deep cup, almost a vertical cylinder." And at the other extreme, Dr. Mearns (1890) records a nest in the Mogollon Mountains in Arizona that was "attached to the end of a horizontal branch upwards of a hundred feet above the ground," in a spruce. JoIrn Swinburne (1890) found a nest in the White Mountains of Arizona, at an altitude of "about 8500 to 9000 feet," that "was placed in a bunch of cones at the end of a small branch, in a spruce-fir tree, at an altitude of about sixty or severity feet from the ground. * * * The nest was completely hidden by the fir cones surrounding it, and was placed about four feet out from the stem of the tree."
Dr. Paul Harrington, of Toronto, writes to me that he found a nest of the ruby-crowned kinglet, at Chapleau on June 10, 1937, 30 feet from the ground in a black spruce on the border of a bog, and says: "I was first attracted to the spot by the agitated male, which sang from close range. \Vhcnever I came near the nesting tree the bird became agitated, even at a distance of 100 yards. I found the bird to act in this manner near another nest, which contained nine incubated eggs. On numerous occasions I have observed the male to act in this manner and believe that it is a regular nesting characteristic. The nest found June 10 was a perfect example of the utmost in bird architecture, a compact structure of moss, lined thickly with rabbit fur and feathers, and, although globular in shape, was in no way semipensile, but really a deep, cup-shaped structure. All the nests I have seen have been placed near the top clump of needles, straddled on small branches adjoining the trunk and exceptionally well concealed from the ground."
Most descriptions of nests give the impression (and what few nests I have seen confirm it) that they are made mainly of green mosses, such as Cladonia, Hypnum, and Parmelia, gathered from fallen logs and trees, mixed with the long, green tree-lichen, (knee longissima. But careful studies of nests have shown that much other material is often, if not regularly, used. Mr. Weydemeyer (1923), for example gives the following good description of a nest in Montana:
In color, the nest looked much like the surrounding spruce foliage. In general appearance, it resembled an elongated Wright Flycatcher's nest constricted at the top. The cup was between four and four and one-half inches deep, and two and one-half inches wide at the center, narrowing toward the top to form a circular opening not more than an inch and a quarter in diameter.
Thistle down, cotton from the catkins of the aspen, and small feathers made up a large part of the body of the nest. The outside was thickly covered with finely shredded inner bark of aspen, a few blades of dry grass, and ground and tree mosses, with a surface covering of grayish lichens and a few small spruce twigs.
The interior of the nest was thickly lined with feathers. The sides were covered with body feathers of the Canadian Ruffed Grouse, arranged with the points of the quills down and covered by the tips of the feathers below. The tips of the uppermost feathers curved slightly inward just below the opening of the nest. At the bottom was a thick covering of breast feathers of the female mallard.
With the exception of the feathers forming the inner lining, the various materials composing the nest were strongly hound together by an intricate and extensive network of extremely fine fibers from insect cocoons. The coarser material on the outside of the nest was also held together by stiff porcupine hairs, while the bottom was further strengthened with several long horsehairs. Thus, though the nest was unusually soft and quite yielding to the touch, it was nevertheless strongly held in shape.
The nests are almost always pensile, or semipensile, and usually partly attached to surrounding twigs. They are generally roughly globular in shape, though somewhat flattened on the top, measuring 3 or 4 inches in both height and diameter, but sometimes elongated downward to 5 or 6 inches. The opening above seems to vary from 1Y~ to 2 inches in diameter; the internal depth varies from 1% to 3 or 4 inches, but the cavity is usually deep enough completely to conceal the incubating bird.
A. D. Henderson tells me that the ruby-crowned kinglet is an abundant breeder at Belvedere, Alberta, "building its nest usually in a slim spruce in a muskeg. The nest is very difficult to see, and is usually found by watching the birds go back to it, when the female comes off to feed. If the exact location of the nest is not seen, but its presence is suspected, every nearby spruce is rapped with a stick; and when the one with the nest is struck, the sitting female drops like a bullet to within a few feet from the ground. I have seen one nest of the rubycrowned kinglet only 5 feet from the ground and another 45 feet up; ten other nests ranged from 7 to 25 feet up."
Eggs: The ruby-crowned kinglet lays 5 to 11 tiny eggs, closely packed in its little nest; sets of four are probably incomplete, from seven to nine are the commonest numbers found, and any larger numbers are uncommon or very rare. The eggs are so much like those of the golden-crowned kinglet that the two are practically indistinguishable. They vary in shape from ovate to oval or rounded oval. The ground color is pale huffy white, dirty white, or clear white. The egg is more or less evenly covered with very fine dots or small spots of reddish brown or dull brown; sometimes these markings are concentrated around the larger end, and sometimes they are so faint that the eggs appear immaculate. rihe measurements of 40 eggs average 13.7 by 10.8 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 14.8 by 10.9, 14.0 by 11.4, 11.9 by 10.6, and 13.5 by 9.8 millimeters.
Young: The period of incubation does not seem to have been learned, but it is probably the same as that of the European goldcrest, 12 days, and the young probably remain in the nest for about the same length of time under normal circumstances. Incubation is apparently performed wholly by the female, but both parents feed the young in the nest, and for some time after they leave it. J. Dewey Soper (1920) watched a pair of these kinglets feeding their young, while he was in the tree near the nest and again from the top of a ladder within 3 feet of it; he writes:
During the half hour which I clung to the tree the male visited the nest with food three times and the female twice. The former upon deposition of the food vacated the nest promptly but the female on the contrary, often remained with the young until the return of her mate, when she then slipped quietly away. In this manner the young were left alone for certain periods but sheltered again for longer ones when the female returned. * * *
The detention of the female at the nest I observed, was due to her hahit of regularly cleaning the nest of all the sac-like excrement; due to the rapid digestion of the hungry infants, her obligations in this respect seemed never to cease. The matter was probed for with scrupulous care, some consumed by her, and the remainder dropped overboard at some distance from the nest. In this the male never assisted. Candor bids me remark however, that his tireless assiduity in harvesting for the young more than offset this disparity. * * *
With my face only a couple of feet distant from the nest the pair continued their work scarcely conscious of my presence. True, at first they hovered above me '~tith sweet queries in their throats and entered the nest from the opposite side of the bough but soon this discretion was forsaken for perfect freedom. Twice, the male warbling an undertone alighted within two feet of my hand on the supporting guy rope of the ladder. A pretty performance and employed only by the male was to flit from the nest and become suspended on whirring wings before me, like a hummingbird before a flower.
Plumages: Young ruby-crowned kinglets, in juvenal plumage, look very much like young goldencrowns, but their coloration is darker and they show the light eye ring instead of the superciliary stripes. Ridgway (1004) described the young bird, in first plumage, as "similar to the adult female, but upper parts browner (nearly hair brown), wing-bands tinged with brownish buffy, under parts less yellowish, and texture of plumage more lax."
The postjuvenal molt, accomplished before the bird migrates, is incomplete, involving the contour plumage and the wing coverts, but not the rest of the wings or the tail. This produces a first winter plumage which is practically indistinguishable from that of the adult in each sex. The young males usually assume the scarlet vermilion crown patch, but in some cases it is more nearly orange in color. Some males in full song in spring have no vestige of the crown patch.
The spring plumage is acquired by wear, with sometimes the renewal of a few feathers. A complete postnuptial molt occurs late in summer. Fall birds, in fresh plumage, are more brightly colored than spring birds, more olive above and more bufry below.
There has been some discussion in the past as to whether the female ever has a red or an orange crown patch, but I believe it is now agreed that she does not. Specimens labeled as females may have been wrongly sexed. But it may be that, as in some other species, a very old female may assume, at least partially the plumage of the male.
The reported orange or yellow crown patch in the young male seems to be very rare, and it has been suggested that this color may change later to the usual bright red, this suggestion is strengthened by the fact that the specimens showing this yellowish crown were taken in fall; however, this matter still remains to be settled.
Food: Professor Beal's (1907) analysis of the contents of the stomachs of 294 ruby-crowned kinglets, although taken in California, will probably give a very fair idea of the food of the species elsewhere. The food consisted of 94 percent animal matter, "insects, spiders, and pseudoscorpions: minute creatures resembling microscopic lobsters," and 6 percent vegetable matter, fruit and seeds. "Hymenoptera, in the shape of wasps, and a few ants appear to be the favorite food, as they aggregate over 32 percent of the whole." Hemiptera make up 26 percent of the diet, including assassin bugs, lace bugs, leafbugs, leafhoppers, jumping plant-lice, plant-lice, and scale insects. Beetles were eaten to the extent of 13 percent, only 2 percent of which were the useful ladybirds and the remainder all more or less harmful. Butterflies, moths, and caterpillars were eaten rather sparingly, aggregating only 3 percent of the whole. Flies amounted to 17 percent, and spiders and pseudoscorpions made up an additional 2 percent.
The small amount of vegetable food was divided as follows: Fruit, principally elderberries, less than 1 percent, weed seeds 0.01 percent, and miscellaneous matter, including seeds of poison-oak and leaf galls, over 4 percent.
Dr. George F. Knowlton (MS.) lists the ruby-crowned kinglet among the birds that eat the beet leafhopper in Utah; five birds examined had eaten two nymphs and two adults.
Milton P. Skinner (1928) gives the following account of the feeding habits of this kinglet in North Carolina in winter:
During the winter, they depend largely on small insects for food. At times they are on the ground amid the fallen leaves, searching herbaceous plants less than a foot high, or on the twigs of low bushes or shrub oaks, but often on the three species of pines searching the trunks, limbs, twigs, and the bunches of needles. When hunting the clusters of pine needles, the kinglets search carefully at the base of each needle and in the pockets between the needles, frequently swinging back down below the clusters, and sometimes hovering in mid-air on fast-beating wings before the clusters. One kinglet that searched the tufts of needles appeared to catch an insect every five or six seconds as long as I watched it, and another one found something to eat on every four inches of pine limb that it searched. Sometimes the Ruby-crowned Kinglets hunt insects in the cedars, hollies, gums and dogwoods. In this limb and twig hunting, they depend chiefly on picking insects from the hark, or on catching those that fly from the bark. But many of these birds perch on limbs and dart on insects that attempt to fly past them. Sometimes the Ruby-crowns collect dogwood berries from the ground and eat them, but reject the seeds probably, and occasionally they take a few sumac berries. More often they consume cedar berries, both pulp and seeds, and some of the pulp from wild persimmons.
Behavior: The above account of the feeding habits of this kinglet by Mr. Skinner gives a good idea of its behavior anywhere, for the constant search for food is always the main activity of this busy little bird. Mr. Skinner adds: "When they fly, these kinglets show a peculiar, jerky, undulating flight that is more or less characteristic of them."
Except during the breeding season, the ruby-crowned kinglet is a sociable bird, being seen on migrations and in winter loosely associated with various other birds, such as warblers, bluebirds, titmice, nuthatches, creepers, golden-crowned kinglets, as well as with individuals of its own species. It is probably some community of interest or some similarity in foraging ground, rather than any special attachment for each other or desire for company, that brings together these loose associations of very different birds. There is no apparent flocking instinct among them; each species, and in fact each individual, acts independently in pursuit of its special line of activity. This kinglet is also a tame and unsuspicious little bird, not easily frightened and easily approached.
W. E. Clyde Todd (1940) calls attention to certain differences in the behavior of our two kinglets: "The Ruby-crown is by all odds the more active, nervous, and irascible of the two, as it is also the more musical. It does not manifest the same partiality for conifers, and it also tends to keep nearer the ground. it has a characteristic way of flirting its wings with a sudden jerking motion; otherwise its actions while exploring the trees and bushes for its minute insect food are warbler-like."
Voice: For its remarkable song the ruby-crowned kinglet is justly famous. Those who have not heard it in its full richness on the breeding grounds carmot appreciate it, for we seldom hear the full song on migration even in spring. The remarkable part of the song is the great volume of sound that issues from the tiny throat in the latter part of the performance, much greater than would seem possible from such a small bird. Much has been written in praise of it. Bradford Torrey (1885) says: "The song is marve]ous,: a prolonged and varied warble, introduced and often broken into, with delightful effect, by a wrennish chatter. For fluency, smoothness, and ease, and especially for purity and sweetness of tone, I have never heard any bird-song that seemed to me more nearly perfect."
Aretas A. Saunders has sent me the following description of the song: "The song of the ruby-crowned kinglet is of three distinct parts. It begins with four to eight high-pitched, rather squeaky notes. This is followed by a rapid chatter of five to ten notes, often a full octave lower than the first notes, and usually rising slightly in pitch.
The third part is loudest and most musical, it consists of a 3- or 4-note phrase repeated two to seven (commonly three or four) times.
In this phrase the last note is highest, loudest, and strongly accented.
The whole song then is like eee-tee-tee-tee-too-too-tu-tu-ti-ta-tidawdt "1 have 22 records of this song. In 16 of them the drop between the first and second parts is exactly one octave. Most of the songs begin on C'''', butsomeonB'''orC#''''. Thecompleterangein pitch is from C#' ' ' ' to B ' ',one tone more than an octave.
"It is quite common to hear the bird sing this song through two or three times without a pause. At other times it may sing the last part of the song only."
He says that all the breeding birds of this species that he heard in Montana sang a somewhat different song from that of the eastern birds: "The songs of eastern and western birds are alike in the first two parts, but in the third and loudest part they are very different, the western bird singing whdytay, wlidtay, whdytay, whdtay, with the accent strongly on the first note, rather than the last. I have heard songs like those of the eastern bird from migrating individuals in Montana, and Weydemeyer has reported a number in northwestern Montana with the eastern song."
Weydemeyer (1923) describes a very elaborate and probably a very unusual song, as follows:
The first two parts were the same as in the usual song, but the final notes were quite different and much more pleasing. The song sounded something like this: Keue icezee, reek, reek, eck, eek, cek, eek, chive, chive, chiva, chiva, chive, chiva, chiva, chive-I ete! te-telete! te-telete! te: telete! te: telete! Nearly every day that summer and fall, except during the molting season, this song, or a portion of it, was heard in the flat. As the nesting season approached, the song was not so often heard, and usually when it was, only the last part was given. During August it was seldom heard; by September, the last part was heard occasionally; and by the middle of that month the song was again given as in the spring.
In 1909 in southern Labrador, and again in 1912 in Newfoundland, when my hearing was only fairly good, I evidently missed the highpitched first part of the song, and wrote down the other, louder parts as toot, toot, toot, peabody, peabody, peabody, or the latter part as liberty, liberty, liberty, the phrases often repented more than three times; again I wrote the latter part in French as toute suite, toute suite, toute suite! 1 also recorded an alarm note, a loud peu, peu, almost as loud as the similar note of some thrushes.
Dr. Harrison F. Lewis (1920) recorded five types of song-endings, as heard from migrating birds near Quebec during the season of 1920, which he classified as follows:
1. wud-e-mve~t, wud-e-weit, etc. (3 syllables, accent on third), 1 record.
2. pul-d-cho, pul-&cho, etc. (3 syllables, accent on second), 2 records.
3. jim-in-y, jim-i n-y, etc. (3 syllables, accent on first), 50 records.
4. ~,rou-e~t, you-eat, etc. (2 syllables, accent on second), 1 record.
5. s-to, pa-to, etc. (2 syllables, accent on first), 9 records.
The third song-ending seems to have been by far the commonest, and agrees very closely with what I heard on the breeding grounds. The fifth is much like the common call of the tufted titmouse. Francis H. Allen's notes for August 17, 1928, at Matamek, Quebec, state: "I heard a puzzling incoherent song which I soon traced to a young ruby-crowned kinglet. The song was a long-continued succession of short phrases, resembling somewhat the fall song of a young song sparrow, but having a suggestion of the full song of its own species.~~ The ruby-crowned kinglet's song period is spread out, more or less continuously, from early in spring until quite late in fall, with some cessation during the period of greatest nesting activity and during the molting season. It sings during both migrations, but much more frequently and more fully in spring; the fall songs are not so regularly heard and are more fragmentary. In Frederic H. Kennard's notes, I find records of the song as early as March 27 and as late as October 16 in Massachusetts. Arthur T. Wayne (1910) says that the song period in South Carolina begins early in April, and that "when engaged in singing, the males display the vermilion patch on the cro~vn." Mr. Saunders tells me that he has heard the song from migrating birds only in April or early May, or more rarely in October or November. Mr. Todd (1940) says, referring to western Pennsylvania: "After the first few days of May this song is seldom heard, since the later migrants are all females. These have only an odd chattering, snapping, scolding note, which, once learned, will always serve to distinguish this kinglet from the Golden-crowned species."
Field marks: If the bright-red crown patch of the male can be seen, it is a positive field mark; but it is often partially, or wholly, concealed by the surrounding plumage; and it is not present at all on the female or the young bird. If no crown patch is seen, and the bird is a kinglet, it is a ruby crown, for the crown patch shows conspicuously in both adult sexes of the golden-crowned kinglet. Moreover, the ruby-crowned kinglet has a conspicuous white eye ring, which the other species lacks. An eye ring is somewhat in evidence in some of the small flycatchers, but these are mostly larger than kinglets and behave differently. If a bird is seen sitting quietly in an upright position, it is a flycatcher and not a kinglet; if flitting actively about, almost constantly in motion, it is more likely to be a kinglet; kinglets are tiny, plump little birds clad in olive and buffy gray plumage.
Enemies: The ruby-crowned kinglet is a very rare victim of the cowbird; Dr. Friedmaim (1929) could find but one record. Harold S. Peters (1936) records one fly, Ornithomyja confluenta Say, and one tick, Flaemaphysalis leporis-palustris Packard, as external parasites on the eastern ruby-crowned kinglet.
Winter: Although most of the ruby-crowned kinglets go far south in winter, ranging as far as Mexico and Guatemala, some spend the winter as far north as southern British Columbia, Iowa, and Virginia more or less regularly; there are a number of records for Massachusetts, and Mr. Tufts tells me that several came to a feeding station at Digby, Nova Scotia, in January 1941.
This kinglet winters abundantly all through the Southern States, where it is much commoner than the golciencrown. C. J. Maynard (1896) writes:
The Ruby-crowned Kinglets are the most common birds of Florida during winter, arriving from the North about the first of December, scattering through the hammocks all over the state, even as far south as Key West, and they may occasionally be found in company with other birds, hut are generally independent; indeed, I think they seldom pay any attention to the movements of even their own companions; each pursues a course agreeable to itself. They can therefore hardly be called gregarious at this season, being equally numerous in every wooded locality, unless we choose to consider all which are in Florida as constituting one vast flock. They move about among the luxuriant growth of trees and shrubs in a manner which plainly indicates that they are at home. They seem to be always busily engaged in searching for insects upon the branches, yet will pause to gaze inquisitively at a stranger. They are not noisy at such times, and although very abundant, one who is not a naturalist would scarcely notice them, for they come without bustle, remain in the seclusion offered by the hammocks, quietly pursuing their avocations, then, by the middle of March, retire northward as silently as they came.
Range: North America from northern Canada to southern Mexico; occasionally to Guatemala.
Breeding range: The ruby-crowned kinglet breeds north to northern Alaska (Kobuk River; reported to breed to the edge of the willpws a few milessouth of Point Barrow; specimens from Point Barrow and Cape Halkett); northwestern Mackenzie (Mackenzie River, 100 miles below Fort Good Hope; Grandin River, and Fort Resolution); northern Saskatchewan (north shore of Lake Athabaska, 8 miles northeast of Moose Island, and the Churchill River); northern Manitoba (Reindeer Lake, Oxford House, and Churchill); northern Ontario (Moose Factory); central Quebec (Fort George, Lake Mistassini, Mingan, and Little Mecatina); and eastern Labrador (Makkovik). East to eastern Labrador (Makkovik, Rigolet, and Paradise River); Newfoundland (St. Anthony, Twillingate, and White Bear River); and Nova Scotia (Baddeck). South to Nova Scotia (Baddeck, Halifax, and Yarmouth); Maine (Calais, possibly Ship Harbor, and Scarboro Beach); possibly New Hampshire (Holderness); northwestern Massachusetts (Savoy); probably northern New York (Mount Whiteface); southern Ontario (Guelph, Sault Ste. Marie, Port Arthur, and Kenora); northern Michigan (Mackinac Is] and, Newberry, and Iron County); southern Manitoba (Winnipeg and Aweme); central Saskatchewan (Hudson Bay Junction and Big River); central southern Montana (Fort Custer and the Big Horn Mountains); central Wyoming (Sheridan, Parco, and Laramie); the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado (Estes Park, Idaho Springs, and Fort Garland); central northern and southwestern New Mexico (Lost Trail Creek, Pecos Baldy, and Black Range); southeastern to central northern Arizona (Tombstone, Santa Catalina Mountains, Mogollon Mountains, San Francisco Mountain, and the north rim of Grand Canyon); southwestern Utah (Cedar Breaks); southern Nevada (Charleston Mountains); and the mountains of southern California (San Jacinto Mountains, San Bernardino Mountains, and Mount Wilson). West to southern California and the Sierra Nevada (Mount Wilson, Yosemite Valley, Pyramid Peak, and Mount Shasta); western Oregon (Fort Klamath, Coos Bay, Corvallis, and Newport); the Cascades of Washington (Mount Rainier and Bumping Lake); western British Columbia (Cape Scott, Vancouver Island; Bella Coola, and Graham Island, Queen Charlotte Islands); and western Alaska (Sitka, Yakutat Bay, Kenai, Nushagak, Nulato, and Kobuk River).
Winter range: The ruby-crowned kinglet is found in winter north to southwestern British Columbia (Comox and Victoria, Vancouver Island, and occasionally at Okanagan Lake); western Washington (Belliugham, Everett, and Mount Rainier National Park); western Oregon (Portland, Salem, and Corvallis); eastern California (Susanville, Yosemite Valley, and Death Valley); southern Nevada (Colorado River opposite Fort Mojave); occasionally to the Ogden Valley of Utah; central Arizona (Prescott, Camp Verde, and the Salt River Wildlife Refuge); southern New Mexico (Silver City, San Antonio, Tularosa, and Carlsbad); central to northeastern Texas (San Angelo, Gainesville, and Texarkana); central Arkansas (Hot Springs and Little Rock); southern Missouri (Ozark Region and occasionally St. Louis); southern Illinois (Odin and Mount Carmel, occasionally to Chicago); southern Indiana (Bicknell and Richmond); and southern Virginia (Blacksburg and Lynchburg); rare or occasional north to North Platte, Nebr.; Washington, D. C.; Easton, Pa.; Demarest, N. J.; Hartford, Conn., and Falmouth, Maine. East to southern Maine (Falmouth); Connecticut (Hartford and New Haven); Long Island (Orient); eastern Pennsylvania (Easton); District of Columbia (Washington); the Atlantic coast from North Carolina (Cape Hatteras) to southern Florida (Royal Palm State Park). South to southern Florida (Royal Palm Hammock) and the Gulf coast of Alabama (Mobile); Mississippi (Biloxi and Gulfport); Louisiana (New Orleans, New Iberia, and Chenier au Tigre); and Texas (Houston and Brownsville); through Tamaulipas (Camargo and Victoria); Puebla (Tziutlan and Puebla); to Gaxaca (Parada); occasionally to Guatemala, since specimens are in existence from that country taken, probably, in the Department of Vera Paz previous to 1859. South to Gaxaca and occasionally to Guatemala. West to Oaxaca (Parada); Guerrero (Chalpancingo and Taxco); Michoac~n (Nahuatzen); Durango (Chacala); Lower California (Victoria Mountains, Cape Region, San Telma, and Las Cruces, and formerly resident on Guadalupe Island); the Pacific Coast of California (Santa Catalina and Santa Cruz Islands, Santa Barbara, Watsonville, and San Francisco); Oregon (Coos Bay); Washington (Cape Disappointment and Tacoma); and southern Vancouver Island, British Columbia (Victoria and Comox).
The ranges as outlined apply to the species as a whole, of which four subspecies or geographic races are recognized. The eastern ruby-crowned kinglet (R. c. calendula) breeds from northwestern Mackenzie, Alberta, and central southern Montana eastward; the western ruby-crowned kinglet (R. c. crnerasceu.s) breeds from northwestern Alaska, Yukon, and northeastern British Columbia, south through the Rocky Mountains to New Mexico, Arizona, and southern California, and west to the Cascade Mountains; the Sitka kinglet (1?. c. grinnelli) breeds in the coastal belt from Kenai, Alaska, to Washington; the dusky kinglet (B. c. obscurus) was resident on Guadalupe island, Lower California, but is probably now extinct.
Migration: Some late dates of spring departure are: Nuevo Le6n: San Pedro Mines, May 8. Florida: Gainesville, April 29. Georgia: Athens, May 10. South Carolina: Columbia, May 8. North Carolina: Raleigh, May 10. District ~of Columbia: Washington, May 17. Pennsylvania: Beaver, May 11. New York: Watertown, May 14. Massachusetts: Northampton, May 21. Mississippi: Rodney, April 13. Louisiana: Lobdell, April 25. Arkansas: Helena, April 19. Kentucky: Bardstown, May 4. Ohio: Columbus, Iv[ay 23. Illinois: Lake Forest, May 12. Texas: Corpus Christi, May 10. Oklahoma: Norman, May 6. South Dakota: Sioux Falls, May 21.
Some early dates of spring arrival are: West Virginia: French Creek, March 26. New York: Rochester, March 29. Massachusetts: Boston, April 8. Vermont: Bennington, March 31. Maine: Auburn, April 5. Nova Scotia: ~ olfville, April 21. New Brunswick: Scotch Lake, April 18. Quebec: Kamouraska, April 22. Newfoundland: St. John's, April 16. Ohio: Columbus, March 8. Michigan: Grand Rapids, March 31. Ontario: London, April 8. Missouri: Kansas City, March 24. lowa: Keokuk, March 24. Wisconsin: Milwaukee, March 18. Minnesota: Redwing, March 21. South Dakota: Brookings, April 5. North Dakota: Fargo, April 5. Manitoba: Pilot Mound, April 11. Saskatchewan: Regina, April 25. Colorado: Grand Junction, April 18. Wyoming: Laramie, April 16. Montana: Fortine, March 30. Alberta: Banfl, April 16. Mackenzie: Willow River, near Providence, May 2. Utah: Corrine, Apr11 3, Idaho: Coeur d'Alene, April 7. Alaska: Craig, April 13.
Some late dates of fall departure are: Yukon, Carcross, September 24. Alberta: Glenevis, October 6. Idaho: Meridian, December 23. Montana: Columbia Falls, October 12. Wyoming: Cheyenne, October 25. Colorado: Yuma, October 29. Saskatchewan: Eastend, October 24. Manitoba: Aweme, October 14. North Dakota: Fargo, October 27. South Dakota: Faulkton, November 1. Minnesota: Minneapolis, November 1. lowa: Sigourney, November 10. Wisconsin: Unity, October 25. Michigan: Ann Arbor, November 13. Ontario: Ottawa, November 10. Ohio: Oberlin, November 23. Indiana: Notre Dame, November 14. Kentucky: Bowling Green, November 14. Newfoundland: St. Anthony, October 3. Quebec: Montreal, November 3. New Brunswick: Scotch Lake, October 29. Nova Scotia: Yarmouth, October 12. Maine: Phillips, October 22. New Hampshire: Jefferson, October 16. Massachusetts: Harvard, December 11. New York: Brooklyn, November 13. Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh, November 2. West Virginia: French Creek, November 4.
Banding records: In the banding files are several records of the return of ruby-crowned kinglets to the station where banded one or two years after banding. One banded at Waukegan, ill., on April 18, 1937, was found 10 days later at Green Lake, Wis.
Casual records: In 1852 an individual was found at Loch Lomond, Scotland; a specimen was collected at Nenortalik, Greenland, in 1859; and one was recorded April 13 and 24, 1909, in the Bermudas.
Egg dates: Alberta: 13 records, June 2 to June 24.
California: 65 records, May 30 to July 17; 40 records, June 11 to June 25, indicating the height of the season.
Colorado: 10 records, June 3 to July 9.
New Brunswick: 5 records, June 14 to July 5.
WESTERN RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET
REGULUS CALENDULA CINERACEUS Grinnell
In the mountain ranges of California, we find this larger race of the ruby-crowned kinglet, paler and grayer, less yellowish, throughout than the eastern form.
Like the eastern subspecies, this kinglet seems to be confined in the breeding season to the coniferous forests of the higher mountains, mainly above 5,000 feet in the Lassen Peak region, and from 7,000 to 8,500 feet in the San Bernardinos. Referring to the former region, Grinnell, Dixon, and Linsdale (1930) write: "In the summer when the kinglets were in the mountains they lived among the tops of the coniferous trees, especially white fir, lodgepole pine, red fir, and hemlock. On June 14, 1925, a kinglet was watched as it foraged about the ends of the branches close to the summit of a fir fully fifty meters tall."
Courtship: Howard L. Cogswell sends me the following note: "In the spring, of course, the males often sing and display before the females, but twice during the fall of 1942, late October and November, I saw a male with red crest raised to its fullest extent over the top of his head, posturing before a female and singing a somewhat wheezy and subdued song, though of characteristic ruby-crown pattern."
Nesting: J. Stuart Rowley (1939) found three nests of the western ruby-crowned kinglet in Mono County, Calif., of which he says:
Around Virginia Lakes, the breeding range of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet is limited to lodgepole pine stands, above 8,500 feet elevation. Over the five seasons of search for nests, only three were found. The first was some sixty feet up in a lodgepole pine, well concealed in the needles. This nest, on July 7, 1927, contained only one fresh egg although the female was flushed from the nest in midday. A second nest was found the nextday, containing six heavily-incubated eggs; it was placed not more than twenty feet from the ground. The third nest found on July 6, 1980, was about forty feet up in a lodgepole pine and contained seven heavily-incubated eggs.
Each was discovered by patiently watching and following females at feeding time early in the morning or late in the evening. At each location, the male kept a vigilant guard against intruding birds of other species, making furious darts at casual passing robins, warbiers, and the like. By locating a singing male, one could assume that a nest was near, hut to find it was another matter.
All three nests were made of lichens and pieces of bark, tied together with cobwebs. The linings were chiefly of feathers. The persistence of incubating females in remaining on the nest is quite remarkable for such a shy nester. In our experience, the females left the nest reluctantly, one remaining until I was a foot or so from the nest. None of the three females flew farther away from their nests than twenty feet when inspection was going on.
Most other observers have reported nests in spruces, which probably are the trees most often chosen for nesting sites. Grinnell and Storer (1924) mention a nest in an incense cedar, near the Sentinel Hotel Annex in Yosemite Valley, Calif.
Eggs: The eggs of the western ruby-crowned kinglet are, apparently, indistinguishable in every way from those of the eastern race. The measurements of 30 eggs in the United States National Museum average 14.0 to 10.9 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 14.7 by 13.2, 12.7 by 11.4, and 14.2 by 10.2 millimeters.
Food: Professor Beal's (1907) report on the food of this species is quoted under the eastern race, as it is the only comprehensive analysis we have for the species; but, as it was based mainly on specimens collected in California, it might just as well have been included here.
Behavior: Grinnell and Storer (1924) give such a good account of the activities of this species that it is worth quoting here:
Both of our kinglets are busy birds at all times, but the Ruby-crown shows even more activity than does its relative. Its temperament is of the high-strung or nervous sort, which keeps the bird constantly on the go: in decided contrast to the phlegmatic behavior of, for instance, the Hutton Vireo. The kinglet has relatively long legs, and standing up on these its body is kept well clear of any perch so that the bird can hop or turn readily in any direction. Such twists and jumps are often assisted by fluttering movements of the wings. Not infrequently a Ruby-crowned Ringlet will poise on rapidly moving wings while it picks off an insect from some leaf not to be reached from a foothold. In routine foraging the bird moves through the foliage rapidly, peering this way and that as it goes, spending but a moment in any one spot or pose.
The Ruby-crowned Ringlet lacks the sociable attribute of the Golden-crown. During the nesting season the pairs give close attention to the rearing of their broods, but as soon as the young are able to live independently tbe families break up and each individual takes up a separate existence. While in the foothill and valley country, the Ruby-crowns are to be seen singly, each keeping to a particular forage area and usually resisting approach by another of the same species. When something excites one of their kind, however, other individuals are quick to gather and all unite in a community of effort until the object of their concern has disappeared. Then each kinglet goes its way alone once more. * * *
At about nine o'clock in the morning one of our party noticed a remarkable assemblage of Ruby-crowned Ringlets about tbe foliage of a certain tree. Fifteen or more of the birds were buzzing about as actively and excitedly as bees, and each kinglet was uttering its 'ratchet cell" with vigorous persistence. A couple of Plain Titmouses joined the group while it was being watched. The cause of the excitement became apparent when a pigmy owl flew out from the foliage of the tree. As the owl made off the crowd of excited kinglets followed in his wake.
In the nesting season Ruby-crowned Ringlets often give warning of the insidious activities of Blue-fronted Jays. On one occasion, at Chinquapin, on June 14, 1915, one of our party followed up a kinglet which was giving its per-cup, per-cup, over and over again in low but insistent tones. The cause of concern proved to be a pair of silent jays one of which was shot: to the seeming satisfaction of the kinglet, which immediately sang.
The voice of the western bird seems to be similar to that of the eastern race, with the same variations and with equal charm. It can be recognized by the same field marks and by similar behavior and voice as its eastern relative. Mr. Cogswell has sent me the following note on this subject:
"I find beginning students in field identification have difficulty separating ruby-crowned kinglets from Hutton's vireos, unless a very close view is obtained. To me, however, the chief distinguishing feature is the much slenderer head and especially the thinner bill of the rubycrown, as opposed to the thicker-billed, bull-headed appearance of the Hutton's. Call notes are more positive yet, when one knows them; the short, grating jzidit, or tehidit, of the kinglet is absolutely distinctive. The wing-flitting habit of the kinglet, given by some as an identification aid, is also indulged in by the vireo to some extent, though the kinglet, nearly always once a second or oJtener, opens his wings and shuts them again all in a flash, whereas the vireo does it only occasionally, or at the most once every 2 or 3 seconds."
Ralph Hoffmann (1927) adds to the comparison: "The Yireo is a stockier bird and much more deliberate in its movements. It drops lazily from one twig to the next, and often stays for some seconds motionless or with only a slight movement of the head."
Winter: In the fall these kinglets move down from their breeding grounds in the mountains and spread out in scattering groups over the foothills and valleys. Mr. Cogswell tells me that it is common, at times exceedingly so, throughout the lower areas in winter, from late September to early April. "In the oak regions of the foothills and the willow regions along the lowland streams, as many as 35 to 40 individual kinglets can be counted on a forenoon's bird walk of 3 or 4 miles."
Referring to the Lassen Peak region, Grinnell, Dixon, and Linsdale (1930) write: "During the winter, ruby-crowned kinglets foraged among the branches and foliage of tall shrubs and trees. Individuals were observed, at that season, about the following kinds of plants: digger pine, yellow pine, live oak, blue oak, buck-brush, clumps of mistletoe in cottonwood, willow, and cat-tail. Almost any sort of twiggery, whether leafy or not, where small insects might be found seemed to be a suitable winter forageplace."
REGULUS CALENDULA GRINNELLI Palmer
The type of this dark-colored race of the ruby-crowned kinglet was collected by Dr. Joseph Grinnell, at Sitka, Alaska, on June 23, 1896, and named in his honor by William Palmer (1897), who says: "The Sitkan Kinglet is a smaller and darker bird than its near relative R. calendula, approaching closer, except in the coloring of its crown patch, to B. obscurus of Guadalupe Island. It lacks the grayness and paleness above and on the sides of the head and neck characteristic of calendula. The bill is larger and differently shaped. The wing is much darker, nearly black in places, and the anterior bar especially is narrower."
Its breeding range is on the humid Northwest coast, from Prince William Sound and Skagway, Alaska, to British Columbia. As this region has produced so many dark-colored subspecies, it is interesting to consider the type of gloomy and humid weather that has helped to produce them. Mr. Palmer quotes the following from a circular of the United States Weather Bureau:
The fringe of islands that separates the mainland from the Pacific Ocean from Dixon Sound northward, and also a strip of the mainland for possibly 20 miles back from the sea, following the sweep of the coast as it curves to the northwestward to the western extremity of Alaska, form a distinct climatic division which may be termed temperate Alaska. The temperature rarely falls to zero; winter does not set in until about December 1, and by the last of May the snow has disappeared except on the mountains. The mean winter temperature of Sitka is 32.50, but little less than that of Washington, D. C. * * * The rainfall of temperate Alaska is notorious the world over not only as regards the quantity that falls, but also as to the manner of its falling, viz.: In long and incessant rains and drizzles. Cloud and fog naturally abound, there being on an average but 66 clear days in the year.
The nesting and all other habits of the Sitka kinglet seem to be similar to those of the species elsewhere, and need not be referred to further here. I have been unable to locate any eggs of this subspecies.
Richard C. Harlow has sent me a nest of this kinglet, taken by C. DeB. Greene on Porcher Island, one of the Queen Charlottes, in June 1921. At the time it held broken eggshells. It was apparently located like the nests of other kinglets, in the pendant twigs of some species of fir or spruce, pieces of such twigs still adhering to it. But no further data are available. In its present condition it is a rather large, cup-shaped ball, open at the top, measuring about 4 by 5 inches in outside diameter and about 2 inches in height; the inner cavity probably measured less than 2 inches in diameter and about an inch and a half in depth. It is composed mainly of a mass of mosses and lichens, much of which was probably green when used, reinforced with many fine strips of shredded weed stems and many fine, white, threadlike fibers. It was originally lined with feathers, but these have been eaten out by moths and no trace of them remains.
REGULUS CALENDULA OBSCURUS Ridgway
This kinglet, found only on Guadalupe Island, is darker than even the Sitka kinglet, with a shorter wing and larger bill and feet, and the crown patch is more pinkish red. In fact, all the birds peculiar to Guadalupe Island are darker than their nearest relatives on the mainland and have shorter wings and larger bills and feet.
Practically all we know about this insular form of the ruby-crowned kinglet, which was originally described as a full species, comes from Walter E. Bryant's (1887) report on the birds of that remote island. Of the haunts of these birds, he says: "Frequenting more numerously the large cypress grove, they are nevertheless found in the smaller grove, and also among the pines. In the former and latter places they are positively known to breed, and there is but little doubt that they also nest in the small grove."
They were evidently very numerous on the island, for he collected a series of ten males and three females.
Nesting: Bryant says: "As early as the middle of February nestbuilding was in order, the birds selecting the topmost foliage of a cypress, and sometimes the very outer extremity of a horizontal branch," and continues:
As the result of many days' diligent search, three nests came under my observation, and these were detected only by watching the birds as they collected building material, or by tracing to its source a peculiar, low song, which the male sometimes sings when close to the nest.
These nests were all found over twenty feet high, and only one could be seen from the ground, and that merely during the intervals when the wind parted the branches. They were placed in the midst of a thick hunch of foliage, and but lightly secured to the twigs. Compact, though not very smooth in structure, they were composed of soft strips of bark intermingled with feathers, bits of moss, fine grass and cocoons. Additional warmth is secured by a quantity either of goat's hair or feathers, and, lastly, a thin lining of goat's hair. Their external measurement is about 70 mm. in height by 90 mm. in diameter, while the internal depth is about 45 mm., and diameter from 35 mm. to 45 mm. The mouth of the opening is smaller than immediately below.
Eggs: Quoting further from Mr. Bryant's account:
In color the eggs are white, with a dense wreath of pale yellowish-brown spots encircling the larger end. In some places, these spots appear to be laid over a pale lavender washing, and in one specimen, these fine, almost indistinct dots extend sparingly over the entire surface. They measure in millimeters 14 x 11 and 15 x 11.
T. E. McMullen has sent me the following measurements five eggs of the dusky kinglet in his collection: 14.7 by 11.4, 15.2 by 11.4, 14.7 by 11.2, 14.5 by 11.2, and 15.2 by 11.4 millimeters.
Voice: Mr. Bryant continues:
In December I found them in full song and as common as in April. * * * Their song is indescribably sweet and musical, and of wonderful power for so small a bird, commencing with a few low, quick notes, as though the singer were merely trying his voice, then bursting into a full animated warble, it ends in a dissyllabic measure, accented on the first syllable, and usually repeated from three to six times. One remarkably fine songster repeated the final dissyllable eight or ten times. Only once did I hear the metallic click, so common with the Oakland birds in winter, but even then it flowed immediately into song.
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