Sharing A Walk With A Small Bird

Let’s talk about little birds. The smallest in our area is the hummingbird, which is about 3 3/4 inches long. Add to the list the golden-crowned kinglet, 4 inches long, blue-gray gnatcatcher, 4 1/2 inches long, winter wren, 4 inches long, and blue-gray gnatcatcher 4 1/2 inches long.

The golden-crowned kinglet can be seen year-round in our area. Those that do migrate in the winter can go as far south as Guatemala. Look for it in coniferous woods. In this habitat it will eat spiders, some fruit and seeds. You might see it foraging in tree bark for morsels of food.

Here’s the scoop on its family life. A pair will have two broods of chicks. In courtship, the male will feed the female. Then, copulation will occur near the nest or right on the nest. The nest hangs from branches near a tree trunk. Its top is open with an oblong cavity. Materials used are moss, lichens, spider webs, plant down and dead leaves. The lining comes from finer materials. This process takes about five days.

The female will have two broods of five to 11 eggs. These tiny -inch eggs are off-white in color with brown spots. They are arranged in two layers in the nest. The second clutch, in many instances, will have as many eggs as the first clutch.

In 1980-81, the golden-crowned kinglet was put on the Blue List. Just a few years earlier, in 1971, the National Audubon Society’s ornithological magazine, American Birds, commenced publishing that list. This was used to make ornithologists aware of North American birds that were decreasing in number or living in smaller areas. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would publish a list of threatened and endangered species. That is a much more serious situation. This is where you, the citizen scientist and bird-watcher, are important. The data that you report can influence state and the federal government to possibly protect species in danger. Your observations need to be as detailed as possible.

When you see a large flock of birds, do not presume that it is composed of one species. To the contrary, a flock could include chickadees, brown creepers, small woodpeckers and golden-crowned kinglets. There are several theories as to why birds flock together. A larger flock provides more eyes and ears which gives the birds a better chance of spotting a predator. Also, their large number may confuse the predator.

Another possible advantage of hanging out in large numbers would be that individuals with different talents can help each other. For instance, in the tropics, red-eyed vireos are near-sighted. If they group with yellow-margined flycatchers, they have a better chance of survival. The vireos are helped by the flycatchers’ ability to see oncoming danger better. This cooperation also applies to chickadees and titmice, which are sentinels for downy woodpeckers looking for food.

Another theory has been suggested as to why different species of birds flock together. If there is plenty of food in an area, flocking is not needed as much. It is when there is a scarcity of food that different species help each other. One species might flush up prey. Then, others can easily catch the food. Two examples of these cooperative species are yellow robins and brush turkeys. The turkeys walk along and stir up insects which are then consumed by the robins. I am not sure that turkeys also help American robins. The relationship that can be seen in our area is between the cattle egret and a herd of cattle or tractors. The egret will walk right behind a cow and eat seeds in the cow’s manure.

Teeny, tiny birds can be tough to identify. They flit around fast. Don’t give up. They are beautiful birds.