Photo By Joe Halton
Considered a Winter migrant in Western Washington the Ruby-crowned Kinglet (RCKI) is commonly seen in Skagit County September through April. This bird is very small averaging 4.25 inches. Its overall color is olive-green above and tan below. Distinguishing field marks include a white eye-ring and two white wing-bars. Males have a hidden ruby crown seen during territorial and courtship displays, and while bathing. The female does not have ruby crown feathers.
The RCKI is very similar to our year-round resident the Hutton's Vireo. Both birds are olive, with the Hutton's leaning more gray underneath. They have eye-rings and two white wing-bars. The Hutton's eye-ring appears broken above the eye. They also have a thicker bill. The two wing-bars. are easily seen on the Hutton's, especially in flight. However the best distinguishing feature is observing the bird's behavior. RCKI's have a very fluttery, quick manner as they glean insects and berries from foliage. They are usually seen as individuals in loose flocks with other small passerines such as chickadees and Golden-crown Kinglets. Hutton Vireos are glean foraging birds too with a very similar diet. However, their behavior seems “slow-motion” compared to the RCKI. Hutton's Vireos are commonly seen in pairs.
RCKI's breed mostly in mountainous areas north from Alaska across Canada to the east. There are a few breeding areas in the western US down as far south as New Mexico. The female builds a nest constructed from moss, lichen, down, twigs, dead leaves and spider webs. The nest is suspended from twigs and is called a basket, pendant or globe nest. The clutch size can range between 5 to 12 eggs. Due to the elasticity of the spider web used for construction, the nest will expand as the brood grows. The breeding pair will stay together for about two months. After the chicks fledge, they separate and become the solitary, wing flicking forest foragers we observe in Skagit.
Find these birds on your next walk near a shrubby forest edge. Be sure to observe their behavior while you're checking field marks. Perhaps you'll be lucky enough to observe an agitated male displaying the ruby crown of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet.