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Photo ID: Separating Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets

Two kinglets occur in the North America: Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned. Telling them apart can be a challenge. Shape isn’t very useful. Each is a compact little bird with a thin short bill at one end and a short notched tail at the other. Wing pattern doesn’t help much, either, since both species have white wingbars, a heavy black bar, and white and yellow edges on the flight feathers. Fortunately, the birds’ crowns are reliable field marks, as you can see in the photos below.



Hans Spiecker found the Ruby-crowned Kinglet at top at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. gman79, the photographer of the Golden-crowned Kinglet above, says it was enjoying some warm morning sun. We suspect no one fortunate enough to see crowns so dazzling would ever confuse the two, but Ruby-crowned Kinglet keeps its red crest feathers hidden most of the time. When it does, it looks like the bird below, which Paul Roedding photographed as it was migrating through southwestern Ontario. You can still see the crown, but only barely.



The crest of Golden-crowned Kinglet is always visible, although it’s not always vivid. Kim Caruso spotted the bird above at Parker River NWR in Massachusetts.

So what’s the key to telling the species apart? Kenn Kaufman gave the answer in our February 2013 issue: “At a distance,” he wrote, “the only good field mark for distinguishing them is face pattern.” Ruby-crowned Kinglet’s face is rather plain, he explained, while a black lateral crown stripe, a thick pale eyebrow, a dark eyeline, and a whisker mark give Golden-crowned’s face a bold, horizontal look.

Look for these marks in the photos above. Then look for them on kinglets in your yard and in the field. — Chuck Hagner, Editor

See more photos of Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

See more photos of Golden-crowned Kinglet.

Read articles by Kenn Kaufman, and about him.


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