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Newfoundland and Labrador

BRUCE MACTAVISH: It may be the smallest bird of the Newfoundland forest, but the mighty little golden-crowned kinglet is curious and unafraid



Birds come in many shapes and sizes.

They have evolved over the eons to fill a niche in the natural world. It’s quite amazing when you let your mind wander and contemplate how each species of bird evolved to be what they are.

We will not delve into this heady subject now, but instead look at the birds we have with us at this present moment in the evolution of time.

What is the smallest Newfoundland and Labrador bird?

It is true that the ruby-throated hummingbird is smaller than the bird I am thinking of. The hummingbird is a relatively recent arrival to the province with a very local distribution.

The next bird larger than a hummingbird is the gold-crowned king. It is widespread and common on the island of Newfoundland and southern Labrador. It is a real resident bird of the province.

According to my sourcebook, The Sibley Guide to Birds, a gold-crowned kinglet weighs six grams. This compares to almost twice the weight of the black-capped tit at 11 grams.

A black-capped chickadee.  -Nelson Bragg
A black-capped chickadee. -Nelson Bragg

With a name almost too big for the bird’s size, the gold-crowned king is common but goes unnoticed by most outdoor folks. It almost never visits birdhouses. It’s almost never alone. It moves through the forest with others of its kind and tit.

Very curious and intrepid, bird watchers lure goldencrowned kings and titmice out of the dense evergreen forests by phishing. This is a hissing sound made when air is repeatedly forced through clenched teeth. The noise often brings in curious birds to see what the problem is. Often the chickadees come in first, followed by the kinglets.

Chickadees and kinglets get along like first cousins.

Between the needles of the evergreen trees, kinglets and chickadees seek the seemingly endless source of winter dormant insects, spiders and their egg cases. There is very little foraging conflict.

Chickadees and kinglets get along like first cousins.

The kinglets are so light that they can hover at the tops of evergreen branches, giving them the opportunity to examine areas that the heavier titmice have difficulty reaching. It’s a perfect relationship.

Having more eyes up in the sky for marauding hawks benefits all birds in a feeding flock. Sometimes red-breasted nuthatches or brown creepers travel with the flocks of tits and kinglets.

The ringing tones of the gold-crowned kings betray their presence in the dense forest. It’s a high, see-see-see call. It’s one of the first bird sounds that birders can’t hear as they age.

Gold Crowned Kings are difficult to photograph because they are so hyperactive that they rarely stay still for a full second.

Next time you’re in the woods, listen to their call and try to lure them out. They are jewels of the Newfoundland and Labrador forest all year round.

bird news

The mild winter has allowed some summer birds to linger longer in a winter than they should.

A Yellow-throated Warbler and Orange-crowned Warbler thrive on a tallow forage on the lower Rennies River east of St. John’s.

This winter there is a shortage of berries and cones. As a result, northern flickers are heavily dependent on bird feeders this winter. Being photogenic by nature, many flicker pictures are posted on the birding Facebook groups.

There have been reports of some desperate robins and waxwings foraging for the last fruit on ornamental hawthorn trees and wild apple trees.

Bohemian Waxwings.  - Bruce Mactavish
Bohemian Waxwings. – Bruce Mactavish

The only finches that can be called common this winter are the American goldfinch. Some bird feeders see flocks of 50 or more. Among the goldfinches are a few redpolls. Purple finch, crossbill and evening hawfinch are present in small numbers at a few feeding sites.

Sharp-legged hawks are a threat or entertainment at the bird feeders, depending on your perspective. I think due to the small number of birds living in the forests this winter, due to the poor harvest of forage, the little hawks concentrate more on birdhouses this winter than other years.

Another effect of the mild weather noted by bird watchers on the Avalon Peninsula is low winter seabird numbers.

Every year in January, some out-of-province birders travel to the Avalon Peninsula in search of pigeons. This small seabird is usually easily seen from shore in early winter, but not this year. I believe they stayed offshore rather than coming in to feed on the freezing surf like they usually do in January.

The eider duck has also only been found in small numbers at traditional winter sites. There is still time for a change in the weather.

Am I just pining for what was once considered a normal cold winter?

Bruce Mactavish is an environmental consultant and avid bird watcher. He can be reached at [email protected].

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