Ruby-crowned Kinglets Grace My Yard

by Larry Jordan on November 14, 2009

Hutton’s Vireo photos by Larry Jordan

If you live in the Western United States and you saw this bird, you may not be able to identify it from this view.  You might not even be able to positively ID the bird below from this view.

But if you look real closely at the second photo, you can just make out a white wing bar with a black “highlight bar” behind it.  That black band bordering the second and widest wingbar differentiates the Ruby-crowned Kinglet from the Hutton’s Vireo pictured above and below.

Hutton’s Vireo photo by Walter Ammann

Note that the Hutton’s Vireo has a broken eye ring just like the Ruby-crowned Kinglet but lacks the black “highlight bar” behind the second white wing bar.  The Hutton’s Vireo also has a more stout bill than the kinglet, with a hook on the upper mandible.

One of the giveaways of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet, when you watch their behavior, is that they constantly flick their wings and they never remain still.  They are in constant motion which makes them easier to spot than other birds.

If you are lucky enough to see the male Ruby-crowned Kinglet, there is another feature that gives away their identity…

the male has a bright scarlet crown patch that may be concealed but stands erect when he is excited.  I was excited to finally get some good photos of one of my favorite birds that visit my oak trees every winter.  As a matter of fact, it was such an incredibly beautiful morning this morning, knowing where they hang out, I set out specifically to try and photograph them.

These little gems are a delight to watch as they glean spiders and insects from the tree bark, sometimes hovering to grab something under a limb or actually hawking insects in mid air.

They nest high up in conifers during their summer breeding season but they always come back to my oaks in winter to feed.  You can hear the song of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet here and I know you will want to see some other great bird photos by visiting Birdfreak’s Bird Photography Weekly.

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Mick November 14, 2009 at 11:06 pm

How nice to have them visit every winter. I like the little red spot on the male’s head – most distinctive!
.-= Mick´s last blog ..Ruddy Turnstones =-.


Eileen November 15, 2009 at 3:17 am

Gorgeous shots of the Kinglets. I have been seeing them get lost in the tangled branches in my yard too.


Faye November 15, 2009 at 7:02 am

The photos are beautiful. They showed up as big blank boxes with a small x in the top left corner, but I was able to see them by clicking on the x. I never had problems in the past. Don’t understand why. I love seeing the little ruby spot on top of their heads.


Thomas November 15, 2009 at 7:11 am

Fabulous series on this tiny wonder. WOW.
.-= Thomas´s last blog ..Birding in India – White Browed Wagtail =-.


Larry November 15, 2009 at 8:27 am

@Mick it doesn’t seem like winter until they arrive. That little red spot can get very big and bright when they confront another male in their territory

@Eileen good for you! Aren’t they just the cutest?

@Faye sounds like you have a computer problem. Thanks for stopping by, I hope you figure that one out

@Thomas thank you very much. I love these little guys!


Janie November 15, 2009 at 9:25 am

Thanks Larry the pics are great.


Faye November 15, 2009 at 9:38 am

I tried it again and everything came in good.


Neil November 15, 2009 at 3:02 pm

Beautiful looking birds and that red stands out.
.-= Neil´s last blog ..Figbird =-.


John November 15, 2009 at 3:19 pm

Great shots of the kinglets! I imagine those aren’t the easiest birds to photograph.
.-= John´s last blog ..SkyWatch Robin =-.


Monika Wieland November 15, 2009 at 3:37 pm

I know from experience kinglets are not easy birds to photographs, so I understand your excitement at getting such beautiful shots! Thanks for sharing them and thanks also for the direct comparison and pointers on the differences between the ruby-crowns and Hutton’s vireo – it’s an ID I’ve struggled with before, but now I know better what to look for.


Kerri November 15, 2009 at 3:49 pm

Oh, these are GREAT!!


Larry November 15, 2009 at 7:20 pm

@Janie thank you for stopping by!

@Faye glad to hear it

@Neil he is a real cutie

@John, right your are. As I said, they never stop moving. Patience is the key

@Monika thank you very much for the kind comment. It is indeed, my pleasure 🙂

@Kerri thank you very much


Kelly November 15, 2009 at 7:28 pm

…very cool… I’ve never been able to capture a Ruby-crowned Kinglet’s crest. It’s so pretty. Such a fun bird to watch too, but so hard to photograph!
.-= Kelly´s last blog ..The Artistic Cooper’s Hawk… =-.


Tabib November 16, 2009 at 8:32 am

Not easy to captured this restless Kinglets. Beautiful pictures, and I love that scarlet crown male sp.
.-= Tabib´s last blog ..Fire-Tufted Barbet – Mission Accomplished =-.


NatureFotostep Fåglar/Birds November 16, 2009 at 11:49 am

how sweet they are. But that kind of small birds are so hard to get on “film”.
.-= NatureFotostep Fåglar/Birds´s last blog ..Scenic Sunday 70, Viren en kulen dag – Viren a raw day =-.


chris November 16, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Hi Larry,
This is a very nice ID post for those who do not know these species, and you got wonderful pictures to explain this ID differences. Interesting and beautiful!
.-= chris´s last blog ..Award and pictures of November =-.


Nicole November 17, 2009 at 10:49 am

What a gorgeous little Beauty!
That red spot is just cool 😀
.-= Nicole´s last blog ..Stonechat, Schwarzkehlchen, Saxicola torquata =-.


Amber Coakley November 19, 2009 at 9:11 pm

Great job on capturing these cute busy-bodies in photographs. It sounds like you had a beautiful day by your oak trees. Don’t you just love Fall?
.-= Amber Coakley´s last blog ..Singin’ a Song of Spiders =-.


Jon December 7, 2009 at 2:23 pm

Absolutely beautiful photos.. one question tho, isn’t the first pic actually a Hutton’s Vireo? I’m seeing the hooked bill and the thick black legs vs the tiny pointed bill and thin legs with yellow feet on the RCKI pics?

I still have lots of difficulties ID’ing these in the field, so I could definitely be wrong here tho.

In any case, what a great blog, keep up the good work!


Larry December 7, 2009 at 7:05 pm

@Jon when I went back to look at the photos in this post, I realized you are absolutely right! The first photo is a Hutton’s Vireo. I was so intent on getting photos of the RCKI that I didn’t even notice that the first four shots I took this day were actually Hutton’s Vireos!

Thanks for pointing out the other differences, the Hutton’s Vireo has noticeably thicker, blue-gray legs and feet whereas the RCKI has yellow feet. Plus the the Hutton’s has a thicker bill with a hook at the tip, unlike the smaller straight bill of the RCKI.

I should have looked more closely at my own photos because I do have both these birds on my property, having many Oak Trees, including Live Oaks that Hutton’s Vireo prefers.

I have corrected the text in the post to reflect your sharp eyed conclusion. Thanks!


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