Archive for Kinglets and Gnatcatchers

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 12/11/17

Every winter has its vagrants, birds who show up that just don’t belong here. This little Blue-gray Gnatcatcher has been around for at least a week or so but really ought to be somewhere in the Caribbean or around the Gulf of Mexico right now. Was it blown off course by a storm? Was it migrating south and something stopped it? No one really knows why it happens. The best explanation I’ve heard is that migrating birds have two separate instincts, one tells them how far to travel, and the other tells them which direction. And just on account of variation or some mutation, one or both of those signals get crossed. The most peculiar thing about this example is that a Spotted Towhee (a bird of the Western US) spent a good chunk of the 2013-14 winter in these very same bushes in Rye, NH.

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Golden-crowned Kinglet 11/22/17

Kinglets are the smallest of all songbirds and come with twittering perky personalities. They are difficult to photograph on account they seem to never stop foraging for insects and spiders to keep their metabolism going. How they manage to find enough to eat during the long New England has always been a mystery to me. They come in 7 species around the world, 2 of them found in North America including the Golden-crowned. Males have a reddish streak in the middle of their yellow crests which can be erected. Kinglets are not warblers.

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Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 5/16/16

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These little birds really are blue-gray, with the males being bluer on the head, neck and back, and the females grayer. They move about nonstop in deciduous trees foraging for small insects and can be remarkably acrobatic catching them on the wing. They arrive with the warblers but are actually more closely related to the wrens, and on occasion they’ll even cock their long tails like a wren does. They have an insistent and buzzy ”zee-you- zee-you” song.

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Golden-crowned Kinglet 4/8/15

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Golden-crowned Kinglets are tiny and energetic, rarely holding still for more than a few seconds which makes them a real challenge to photograph. In New England they somehow survive our frigid winters on a diet of insects—little spiders and mites and even caterpillars. They’re more common than you think, you just don’t much see them since they prefer the treetops, especially conifers. Yesterday I got lucky and one came down to the middle canopy and forest floor for a drink. You can see a hint of the central red feathering in his yellow crown stripe signaling it’s a male, those red feathers can be raised into an impressive flaming crest when he’s excited. Female crown stripes are a pure lemon yellow.

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Ruby-crowned Kinglet female 7/4/14

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Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 4/17/14

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Gnatcatchers are a group of tiny songbirds found in the Americas, most of them nonmigratory and tropical, but the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher migrates as far as northern California, the Great Lakes, and New England. This one was a blast to watch catching gnats out of the air yesterday, in what can only be described as joyous nonstop acrobatics. These are not warblers, but are more closely related to the kinglets, and as that upright tail suggests they are even more closely related to the wrens.

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Golden-crowned Kinglet 3/3/14

goldencrownedkinglet

Most of these tiny birds breed in the Canadian boreal forest but winter in the US, though in this part of New England, we’re lucky to have them for year-round residents. Not much bigger than a hummingbird, they are amazingly hardy and somehow manage to find little insects to forage on all winter, and sometimes huddle overnight in groups for warmth. Often I’ll hear their high pitched zee-zee-zee calls  with chickadees and look for them in treetop confisers, but apparently don’t hang out with chickadees when  chickadees are hanging out with titmice.

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