Monday, June 9, 2008

Rare Kinglet Visit Always Pleasant

The budding trees of May in the far north call the ruby-crowned kinglets to come home. The sun is climbing higher in the sky each day and it has that spring warmth that fattens buds and brings a glow to spring flowers.

After wintering in the sunny South, they hear the call and heed it. We have not seen one of these vivacious little jewels now for three weeks. We won't see them around again until they replace our hummingbirds in September when they come bouncing in to fill the void.

We know they are busy and happy for now they are in their breeding grounds. The male must win a mate, help build the dainty little nests, usually lined with rabbit fur and feathers, and all the while keep up his exuberant, almost tumultuous chorus in song. Into this cozy nest of moss, lichens and grasses, the female lays nine teeny, pale buffy eggs with tiny dots of henna-brown. With nine hungry mouths to feed, who has time for singing.

Discarding pansies and planting impatiens one day in mid-May several years ago, I was startled with a loud burst of tumultuous birdsong I had never heard before. I dropped my trowel and sprang to my feet, hoping I could find the author of such a gay melody.

To my surprise there he was, a small midget in feathers. How could such a loud melody come from such a small buffy throat? There, on a limb of a water oak, sat a tiny olive-gray bird, his crown patch glowing . . . a ruby-crowned kinglet!

"Why", I asked him, "are you still here?"

I feel the most fortunate of birders to have heard this boisterous song for I might never be in his far northern breeding range when he is in full, rich song.

Kinglets are wee, plump little birds clad in olive and buffy gray plumage. The bright red crown patch of the male is a positive field mark but it is often covered by the head feathers. Other good field marks are the white eye ring, making the small black eyes appear pop eyed, and the two white wing bars.

The ruby-crowned kinglet is a common winter visitor in the Central Savannah River Area. They move about through the naked trees and luxuriant growth of evergreen trees and shrubs in search for food. Not being noisy or flocking birds, though they are abundant in our area, one would scarcely notice.

During the winter they stay busy just hunting food. Then by early May a wee voice tells them the trees are budding in the northern states and they zoom away on a silvery, moonlit night.

Why was this perky little fellow still at my place in mid-May when he should be helping a mate trim their cozy home with green moss?

We'll never know but from his exuberant bursts of song in the water oak on that May day, wild wisdom sent him a message and courting, mating and nesting were on his mind. Why else would he explode with such melody?

No comments: