Two closely related species lay a claim to the title of the UK’s smallest bird – the goldcrest and the firecrest. However only one of them, the goldcrest, is seen with any degree of regularity in Scotland – the firecrest having a breeding range restricted to SE England.
These tiny warblers are a common sight in their natural pine forest habitat but will also venture into deciduous woodland and gardens in autumn and winter, often amongst flocks of other small birds. Weighing a mere 6.5 grams when fully grown, goldcrests are known for their high energy performances – behaviour more akin to the tit family than warblers.
However in shape and appearance they are very much warblers, having buff white breasts, olive upper parts and dark wings with double white barring .
The characteristic crown stripe found in adult birds and which gives them their name is orange to orange-yellow in males and yellow in females.
The first indication of a goldcrest’s presence is often its high-pitched sweet sounding song, or “sii” communication call, which is used to keep groups together. Unfortunately, because of the high pitch many people find in later life that they are unable to hear them.
At this time of year the resident goldcrest population is swelled by the annual movement of large numbers of birds from across the North Sea. These winter migrants tend to be from the Scandinavian countries but ringed birds originating from as far away as Russia and Poland have been recorded in the UK. Amazing to think that such a tiny bird could survive such a journey!
We had our first goldcrest sighting of the autumn here at Loch of the Lowes on Thursday afternoon. Why not pop along to the reserve this weekend and see if you can spot one for yourself?