Kinglet capers – defending territory!

A birder recently remarked on a Facebook feed that ruby-crowned kinglets (Regulus calendula) seem to have a diet consisting solely of caffeine and Ritalin, which might account for the almost constant motion in which these lovely little birds seem to spend much of their time. They really get revved up, however, not when they are feeding but when they are defending what they consider to be their territory.

Unlike many other bird species, these kinglets don’t tend to hang out in groups of their peers. On the contrary, they often chase away others of their kind and this can turn into an actual campaign against an intruder that can last for quite lengthy periods.


This was brought home to me when I saw a vigorous little male who was confused by his own reflection in an installation at a local garden, aptly entitled “Self-reference”. The NC Botanical Garden organizes a yearly outdoor sculpture competition and this year included Jonathan Davis’ entry comprising a series of shiny glass balls arranged in a tall column supported by encircling metal struts and rope-like cables.

The orbs provided the kinglet with mirrors in which he could see himself, although he was obviously convinced that another male was trying to take over his winter domain. The raised red crest was like waving a flag in front of a bull. (These kinglets usually have the red crest hidden; they only raise it when excited or perturbed.)

My friend Lucretia had seen him attacking the “intruding bird” when she was at the Garden and she alerted another photographer, Mary, and me to his presence. Mary headed over to the site right away and got a lovely photo of Edward looking at himself. (I named him Edward as the meaning of that Anglo-Saxon name is “guardian of prosperity.”)


I only got to the Garden later the next morning, but Edward was still spending his time trying to drive away the interloper.


The sight of another male kinglet with HIS crown raised undoubtedly only incensed him further.

The day that I was there, he took frequent breaks to restore his energy levels by flying to nearby trees and shrubs to gather food.

He also took some time now and again to sit quietly on the sculpture’s metal rings – when his back was turned to the balls, he didn’t see the invader and could catch his breath, so to speak.


It was interesting to see how he tried to peck at the opposing bird, over and over again despite the fact that he was bumping his beak on the sculpture.



After observing him for a couple hours, I decided to leave Edward alone. However, there was a Garden party that evening and I returned to see the sculpture lit up with reflections of nearby Christmas lights – Edward was still busy in the late afternoon challenging his rival!



When I returned a couple days later, the sculpture had been removed, to the relief of some birders who were worried that Edward was going to wear himself out and perhaps be compromised when temperatures were due to drop considerably. As I had seen him feeding frequently, I was not too worried about that, but I am glad that calmer times have now returned for him so that he can spend his coming weeks in a more peaceful atmosphere. Hope to see you in your normal foraging mode soon, Edward!

3 thoughts on “Kinglet capers – defending territory!

  1. Just loved this Maria! Was looking forward to it because of the rc kinglet topic!! I have seen robins do this pecking reflection behavior on window glass and wild turkeys on shiny car hub caps. Female western bluebirds (& eastern bluebird I’ve heard) do it to. I had one who was nesting in a box nearby do it to my study window. I feared she would hurt herself and taped newspaper to the outside of the window (the inside didn’t work). She proceeded to pull down the edges of the paper, sit on it and stare inside – I have a photo. She just KNEW there was another female inside my house who was going to try to steal her man!! Gina

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you enjoyed this, Gina! Bluebirds will do this with car side mirrors and I’ve heard of other species doing it to living room windows. Had not heard of turkeys doing it with hubcaps! I think for me what makes the kinglets unique is that they tend not to hang with others of their kind much, whereas bluebirds and turkeys will associate in groups. It would be cool to see the photo of your bluebird who took down the newspaper! She had figured that you were hiding her rival! The birds can be very entertaining! 🙂


  2. Over Thanksgiving, a friend told me about a female cardinal who was constantly attacking her reflection in the window of my friend’s study. She said the male perched nearby and watched. My friend became so worried about the bird that she and her husband hung a sheet over the outside of the window, and that succeeded in stopping the cardinal’s attacks. They removed it after about a week, and the cardinal did not come back.

    Liked by 1 person

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