Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Name that bird

Ruby-crowned kinglet
I'm no expert when it comes to identifying birds. I haven't been at it for very long and I look for birds in only a few locations near home so I've gotten to know the birds that frequent those places because I see them so often. One of the birds that I've learned to recognize easily is the Ruby-crowned kinglet (Regulus calendula), a winter resident here in Sonoma County. These small birds bounce energetically from branch to branch, seeking insects to eat. Although the males don't often display the red crown they're named for, I've been lucky enough to see and be impressed by a few. I've only heard recordings of their courting song but can easily recognize the harsh chipping sound of their call. You can hear both in this recording at All About Birds.

One morning in early March, as a very cold wind blew through Howarth Park, I found myself sitting in the sun in the middle of a meadow surrounded by bay, oak and manzanita trees, trying to get warm. A few birds drifted through the shrubs around me while American crows soared high above, dipping and banking in the wind and looking as though they were having some kind of fun. Out of the corner of my vision I noticed movement in a nearby shrub and raised my binoculars to see a bird that I thought was probably a Ruby-crowned kinglet. I watched it as it moved from shrub to tree and back again, singing "Pweep - Pweep - Pweep." loudly and repeatedly. Something about it just didn't seem right for the kinglet, but I couldn't clarify what made me feel that way so I made as many notes as I could  in order to mull it over later.

Hutton's vireo

At home I looked at the Ruby-crowned kinglet article at All About Birds. I looked at a few other pages, too, and read, on more than one of them, about the uncanny similarity between Ruby-crowned kinglet and Hutton's vireo (Vireo huttoni). By this time I'd listened to the Ruby-crowned kinglet sound recording and felt fairly certain that my hunch had been correct and the bird I'd seen wasn't a kinglet. I listened to the Hutton's vireo recording and knew I'd found my bird! Pweep!


  1. Very nice sketches Debbie. They show that close observation that makes both a successful sketch and one that is full of information that can help in IDind and learning birds.

    I've drawn RCKs for at least 5 years now and still don't have one as good as yours.

  2. Debbie, very interesting to read about this tiny bird. We have no such birds here, of course, it looks and sounds so nice! Drawings give a very good impression of their character.