Winter Goldcrests

Its been a real pleasure to have goldcrests Regulus regulus in the garden over the past month or so. More often than not we just see a single bird, but occasionally two put in an appearance. They are, like many birds, creatures of habit, with a regular route that takes them from the bird cake suspended in the tree to the right of the kitchen window, down along the low potted plants along the side of the gazebo and up into the curly hazel. Busy would describe them well, as they flit from branch to branch in search of tiny insects.

Goldcrests are the smallest European bird, a third smaller even than a chiffchaff, and weighing in at between five and six grams. Their constant restless search for food  is linked to their diminutive size as they need as much energy as they can to survive. It’s claimed that going with out food for an hour during the day, especially in cold weather, could be fatal for them.

The majority of their feeding time is spent amongst the branches, although as mentioned, they will move along close to the ground if perches are available. Studies have revealed that of half their time is spent ascending twigs, in search of small insects, with the remaining time split equally between moving down or horizontally along branches. A tiny proportion is also spent hovering, which we see occasionally, though it must burn up energy. In our garden they do like the bird cakes, no doubt due to a combination of the fat and the embedded dried grubs. After feeding I’ve noticed them wiping their beaks on nearby twigs to rid themselves of any excess.

At night they roost communally, no doubt in local conifer trees – their tree of choice for feeding most of the year, and for nesting in Spring. Surprisingly, unlike other species, they are not known to use controlled hypothermia to drop their temperatures at night, preferring instead the warmth of others. They will though sometimes roost in cavities and, in Scandinavia, they’ve even been found roosting in snow holes.

Our goldcrests may be resident birds, their song is common enough in spring to demonstrate local breeding, but equally they may be migrants from the far north and east. As with many species winter numbers in the UK vary with conditions abroad.


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  • About

    In this blog we'll describe the day to day comings and goings of the birds in our Devon garden.
  • About us

    Tony is a naturalist and environmental artist. Laura is a free range creative web and print designer. We've recently moved from the village of Ipplepen to the town of Newton Abbot with our two children Ralph and Oli, our dog Henry, and numerous cats (none of whom would ever dream of eating birds).
  • Species List

    List of species, including only those birds that land in the garden:
    Blue tit
    Carrion Crow
    Chiff chaff
    Coal tit
    Collared dove
    Great spotted woodpecker
    Great tit
    House Sparrow
    Long tailed tit
    Mistle thrush
    Pied wagtail
    Song thrush
    Wood pigeon

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