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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Regulus satrapa ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: REGULIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Golden-crowned Kinglets are boldly marked with a black eyebrow stripe and flashy lemon-yellow crest. A good look can require some patience, as they spend much of their time high up in dense spruce or fir foliage. To find them, listen for their high, thin call notes and song. Though barely larger than a hummingbird, this frenetically active bird can survive –40 degree nights, sometimes huddling together for warmth. They breed in the far north and montane west and visit most of North America during winter.

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Keys to identification Help

Chickadeelike
Chickadeelike
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    These are tiny songbirds with a rounded body, short wings, and skinny tail. They have relatively large heads, and their bills are short and thin, perfect for gleaning small insects.

  • Color Pattern

    Golden-crowned Kinglets are pale olive above and gray below, with a black-and-white striped face and bright yellow-orange crown patch. They have a thin white wingbar and yellow edges to their black flight feathers.

  • Behavior

    These tiny songbirds usually stay concealed high in dense trees, revealing their presence with thin, very high-pitched calls. They pluck small insects from clusters of conifer needles, often hovering briefly to reach them. In migration and winter, kinglets frequently join other insectivorous songbirds such as warblers in mixed flocks.

  • Habitat

    Golden-crowned Kinglets live mainly in coniferous forests. They breed in boreal or montane forests (especially spruce and fir), as well as in conifer plantations. In winter, kinglets are somewhat less selective about their habitat: though they still use conifers, you may also find them in deciduous forests, suburbs, swamps, bottomlands, and scrubby habitat. They can occur from sea level to more than 10,000 feet elevation.

Range Map Help

Golden-crowned Kinglet Range Map
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Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    Golden-crowned Kinglet

    Adult
    • Tiny and stocky songbird
    • Short tail
    • Olive-green wings
    • Bright yellow crown stripe, bordered in black
    • © Bill Thompson, Kennebago Lake, Maine, October 2011
  • Adult

    Golden-crowned Kinglet

    Adult
    • Very small, compact songbird
    • Mostly gray with olive wings
    • Bright yellow crown stripe surrounded by black
    • Very small, flattened bill
    • © Bill Thompson, Quabbin Reservoir, Massachusetts, November 2011
  • Adult

    Golden-crowned Kinglet

    Adult
    • Very small, with short tail and bill
    • Olive-green wings and tail
    • Mostly gray with yellow crown stripe bordered with black
    • © Bryan Hix, Uptown Chicago, Illinois, October 2010
  • Adult

    Golden-crowned Kinglet

    Adult
    • Very small and stocky
    • Often appears "fluffy" or "inflated"
    • Striking yellow crown patch surrounded by black
    • White eyebrow
    • © Dave Boltz, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Woodbridge, Virginia, November 2011
  • Adult

    Golden-crowned Kinglet

    Adult
    • Very small, stocky, and compact
    • Short tail
    • Olive-green wings
    • Bright yellow on crown surrounded by black, with contrasting white eyebrow
    • © Ken Schneider, Nelson Lake, Kane County, Illinois, October 2010
  • Adult

    Golden-crowned Kinglet

    Adult
    • Tiny, compact songbird
    • Very small, flattened black bill
    • Bright yellow crown patch bordered with black and contrasting white eyebrow
    • Mostly gray overall with olive-green wings and tail
    • © Stephen Parsons, Ridgefield NWR, Washington, December 2011

Similar Species

  • Adult

    Ruby-crowned Kinglet

    Adult
    • Similar in size and shape to Golden-crowned Kinglet
    • White eye-ring
    • Lacks bold black and yellow markings on crown
    • Overall more olive-green than gray
    • © Bill Benish, Central Park, New York, April 2011

Similar Species

Ruby-crowned Kinglets have an obvious white eyering on an otherwise bland face, lacking the black-and-white contrast of Golden-crowned Kinglets. Brown Creepers don’t look much like Golden-crowned Kinglets, but their habitat and calls are similar. Kinglet calls are usually slightly shorter and repeated several times, while Brown Creeper calls are longer, descend slightly, and waver a bit.

Find This Bird

Search for Golden-crowned Kinglets in dense stands of spruce and fir during summer—or, if you live south of their breeding range, look for them in winter, when they may be in shrubs or deciduous trees. They’re tiny, hard to see birds that spend much of their time among dense needles, often high in the tree. So use your ears and listen for the high, tinkling song of males and especially the high, thin call notes, frequently given while foraging. Once you’ve heard your target, look for movement high in conifers and be prepared for quick views. If you want to attract a kinglet closer for a better look, try making a pishing sound to bring in kinglets along with, possibly, chickadees and warblers.