February 2016 - The Goldcrest
Goldcrest taken by Dominic Gwilliam-Bell 28th November 2015
The goldcrest is a tiny bird with a wing span of about 14cm, and length 9cm, making it one of the UK's smallest birds, together with the firecrest and wren. It weighs only 6g on average when adult. It is olive-green in colour, light underneath, with a double white wing bar. The male bird has a bright orange crown, edged with black, while the female bird has a yellow crown. The firecrest is similar in appearance, but is much rarer, and has a black eyestripe and broad white eyebrow stripe. Juvenile goldcrests are similar to the adults in appearance but do not have the head markings. They are birds of the pine forest and their beaks are thin and ideally suited for catching insects and spiders in pine cones and bark. They can even hover as they hunt for prey. Nests are made of moss, lichens, and spider's webs, and are lined with feathers. They are made by the female and are suspended near the end of a conifer branch or sometimes in ivy. Both parents will feed the young once the eggs hatch. Goldcrests are serial nesters, however, and the female regularly starts to lay a second clutch of eggs before the first brood of nestlings have fledged, and feeding duties are then left to the male. The population of breeding pairs in the UK is 610,000 (RSPB figure). The average lifespan of this small bird is only 2 years.
In autumn and winter our resident birds may join flocks of other small birds, and may be seen in gardens but they rarely visit bird tables except in very cold winters. In autumn, large flocks arrive, mainly from Scandinavia, along the east coast, and then make their way inland over the dunes. This influx boosts the UK goldcrest population to around 3-5 million birds (RSPB figure). Very cold winters can have disastrous effects on numbers, although these appear to recover rapidly in subsequent breeding seasons.
Goldcrests are found throughout the UK. The main problem with identifying them is first to see them, as they rarely keep still. When there is a group of them, they call to each other with high pitched calls, which helps to keep the group together. They have a very high pitched sweet-sounding song which some people find hard to hear.
Interesting fact: Although our smallest song birds, Goldcrests can lay up to 12 eggs in a clutch, which is about one and a half times the adult female's body weight.
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