Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)

Photo courtesy of John Speirs

Coniferous and mixed woodland, parks and gardens are the best places to see this bird. Look out for Goldcrest flitting between tree branches and rarely staying still for more than a second. Listen out for the species’ ‘zee, zee, zee’ call and thin, flourishing song, which is so high, that many people of senior years find the song impossible to hear. Goldcrest is the tiny bird with a big hairdo and is our smallest bird species, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in colour. This tiny bird weighs the same as a 20p coin and is slightly lighter than the similarly diminutive and closely related, Firecrest. This makes the species the UK’s smallest bird.

Goldcrest are widespread and common across the whole of the UK. Despite their tiny size, Goldcrest are highly migratory, with a large influx of birds from the Scandinavia and the near-Continent arriving on the east coast of Britain every autumn. Large falls of migrants sometimes occur and one, on the Isle of May in October 1982, numbered at least 15,000 birds. They are named after the crest of bright feathers in the middle of their head. This is completely yellow on females but has an orange centre on males. The rest of the plumage is mainly green-brown. The scientific name, Regulus regulus, means king or kinglet, probably relating to the crown.

Goldcrest breed in late spring between April and May. The nest is a spherical cup made of cobwebs, lichens, moss and hair, usually suspended at the end of a conifer branch. Typical clutch size is 6-13 which takes sixteen days to incubate. Most pairs will attempt two overlapping broods each spring with the female starting her second clutch before her first brood has fledged. The male takes responsibility for the first whilst his mate concentrates on the second. They are fed for up to 22 days by both male and female. This provides for the potential of up to twenty offspring per breeding season.

The Goldcrest is not of conservation concern, with an estimated breeding population of more than 600,000 birds. According to the IUCN red list, the Goldcrest is of “least concern” and is not currently under any protective measures or on any conservation list. However, it is vulnerable to habitat loss caused by woodland destruction and the felling of trees. Its predators include Sparrowhawks and Owls which take adult birds, but chicks and eggs are vulnerable to a wide range of predators. For such a minute bird it is a miracle of survival and its presence often cheers a dull winters day !