Birding on Bloedel: A perch on high to rest these crowns

“A Year of Birding in Bloedel” is a column that runs every Friday in the Bainbridge Islander. The project is planned to continue in 52 parts through 2014 to help readers find and identify birds in the island’s garden sanctuary. Beginning with this entry on the Golden-crowned Kinglet, each column will also be published here on the Bainbridge Conversation blog each Friday.

The author, Ted Anderson, is a retired professor of biology, having taught at McKendree University (Ill.) for 32 years and for the University of Michigan’s summer biological station for 20 years, where he frequently taught the biology of birds.

Anderson is also the author of “Biology of the Ubiquitous House Sparrow, from Genes to Populations” (2006), and “The Life of David Lack, Father of Evolutionary Ecology” (2013). Ted and his wife Carol have been members of Bloedel Reserve for 7 years. They live in Kingston.

During the winter, a tiny year-round resident of coniferous forests throughout the Pacific Northwest, the Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa), is most frequently encountered in multi-species foraging flocks that include chickadees, nuthatches and the Brown Creeper.

Many bird species feed in flocks, particularly outside the breeding season. The primary adaptive benefit of flock foraging is generally thought to be an increased chance of detecting an approaching predator, such as a Sharp-shinned Hawk (if “two eyes are better than one,” then 10 or 15 pairs of eyes are certainly better than a single pair). For flocking birds of the same species, the downside of flock-feeding appears to be increased competition for food, with flock size often determined by the trade-off between the benefits (reduced risk of predation) and costs (competition for food). In multi-species flocks, this problem is mitigated somewhat by the fact the different species have somewhat different foraging modes. Golden-crowned Kinglets glean small, soft-bodied insects, mites and spiders, as well as their eggs from tufts of conifer needles and crevices in the bark of terminal branches of conifer trees.

One is most likely to encounter Golden-crowned Kinglets in the dense conifer forest between the bird marsh and the road leading to the visitor’s center. Listen for the louder calls of chickadees (chick-a-dee-dee) or nuthatches (a nasal yank-yank) to locate a foraging flock, and then pause and listen carefully for the soft, high-pitched call of the Golden-crowned Kinglet (tsee-tsee-tsee). Watch for movement in the outer branches of the tree from which the call is coming until you spot the tiny greenish kinglet with a white stripe over the eye and a broad yellow (female) or orange and yellow (male) stripe on the crown. The kinglets will often come down to eye level, and when they are hanging upside down, the golden crown is prominently displayed.

Golden-crowned Kinglets also nest in Bloedel, building a cup-shaped nest high in a large conifer. As indicated above, one is likely to also see Black-capped or Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches or Brown Creepers while searching for the kinglet.

Bainbridge Islander, ,

About Ethan Fowler

Ethan Fowler has more than 20 years of journalism experience with 19 years of daily and weekly newspaper experience covering news, features and sports, as well as being an editor for 14 of those years. He has won several writing awards over the years in Washington state, Virginia, Texas and Georgia, including award-winning investigative journalism. Fowler was paid by the Review & Herald Publishing Association in 2009 to co-author a book, "Brushed Back: The Story of Trevor Bullock," with his wife. The book details the real life of a top minor league pitcher in the Philadelphia Phillies organization and his Christian faith. "Brushed Back" has sold more than 2,000 copies since its release.