My friends, the ruby-crowned kinglets!

ruby-crowned kinglet IMG_8776© Maria de Bruyn resAs I mentioned in November, ruby-crowned kinglets (Regulus calendula) are one of my favorite bird species. These tiny, yellowish bundles of energy are fascinating to watch as they perch on twigs, hover in mid-air by feeders and branches, and generally look delightful when they stop to catch a breath for a minute.

Adjusting your camera to be able to photograph them with the best speed and lighting can be quite challenging as their constant motion leads them in and out of the sun and above and below branches.

ruby-crowned kinglet IMG_9428© Maria de Bruyn ruby-crowned kinglet IMG_9419© Maria de Bruyn  ruby-crowned kinglet IMG_9377© Maria de Bruyn resruby-crowned kinglet IMG_9406© Maria de Bruyn res

ruby-crowned kinglet IMG_4734© Maria de Bruyn resOn a rainy day, they may sit still for a tiny bit longer but their flight is not impeded though they may look waterlogged.

This has been a good autumn and winter for my being able to photograph these adorable avians, not only in my yard at the feeders but also in venues such as the Jordan Lake woods, Mason Farm Biological Reserve and Sandy Creek Park. This blog will focus on some of the portraits I’ve been able to capture.



ruby-crowned kinglet IMG_0378© Maria de Bruyn resWhen they are flying around rapidly, you could mistake them for first-year, less brightly hued blue-winged warblers (Vermivora cyanoptera). That happened to me in South Carolina where I thought I had gotten a shot of a blue-winged warbler and instead saw a kinglet in the photo.

ruby-crowned kinglet IMG_0271© Maria de Bruyn res

ruby-crowned kinglet IMG_0272© Maria de Bruyn

The kinglets’ yellow-olive color, white wing bars, broken white ring around their eyes and fluttering flight help identify them. Very occasionally, you catch sight of the red crown or get a peek at a couple of the normally hidden red feathers.

ruby-crowned kinglet IMG_8791© Maria de Bruyn 2ruby-crowned kinglet IMG_4174 ©Maria de Bruyn res signed

The Latin species name, which means little king, has led to a number of “royal” terms for a group of kinglets: a castle, a court, and a princedom. My favorite, however, is a dynasty – a grand description for a collection of these tiny fliers.

ruby-crowned kinglet IMG_8747© Maria de BruynI think I might have a particular fondness for birds with black or dark legs and yellow feet. I love snowy egrets (Egretta thula) with their large feet resembling yellow rubber gloves and melt at the sight of those dainty kinglet feet.



It’s amazing to think of these small birds migrating to North Carolina from as far North as Canada and Alaska. Just think about how many wing-beats and how much energy this demands of these birds! I’m glad they make the trip though!

ruby-crowned kinglet IMG_0409© Maria de Bruyn res2 ruby-crowned kinglet IMG_3539©Maria de Bruyna”?

ruby-crowned kinglet IMG_5641©Maria de Bruyn resI hope you have found these photos as cute as I did – have a great day!

Flashing wings as a hunting technique

Northern mockingbird IMG_2475©Maria de Bruyn resLast year, during a nature walk, I witnessed young Northern mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos) displaying odd behavior as they strutted around on the ground. They would walk and hop a bit and then suddenly spread their wings wide and wider still, then close them and continue pecking on the ground.

Some research on the Internet revealed that they were engaged in a phenomenon known as wing flashing. There are various theories about why mockingbirds flash their wings -– to startle insects, ward off predators, attract a mate. So far, there is no scientific consensus on why they do this.

Northern mockingbird IMG_8889©Maria de BruynresNorthern mockingbird IMG_8904©Maria de Bruynres

Having seen both adult and juvenile birds performing this behavior again this year, however, I’ve become convinced it is part of their hunting technique. Those who promote this idea have suggested that the sudden appearance of the bird’s white wing-bars startles insects, but others argue that insects are not alarmed by the color white.

Northern mockingbird IMG_2816©Maria de Bruyn res

Northern mockingbird IMG_2604©Maria de Bruyn res

My own theory is that when the mockingbirds flash their wings, it creates air currents and disturbs the grasses, thereby uncovering and rustling up bugs. This year I clearly saw the birds catching and consuming insects just after a completed wing flash.

snowy egret IMG_3610© Maria de Bruyn

Later in the summer, I witnessed a similar kind of wing flashing used as a hunting technique by an entirely different species, the snowy egret (Egretta thula). These elegant white birds have long black legs ending in feet that look like they are covered with yellow rubber gloves. They stalk the shallows of waterways such as marshes and ponds looking for prey. The bird I saw was fishing in tidal pools along the Atlantic Ocean shore.

snowy egret IMG_3286© Maria de Bruyn

snowy egret IMG_3270© Maria de Bruyn

It is thought that the egrets use their large feet to stir up the sand underwater so that they can more easily see potential food as they forage. Part of the time, they will simply stand like statues, waiting for a fish to swim nearby so that they can suddenly plunge their long beaks into the water to get their meal.

snowy egret IMG_3313©Maria de BruynThis worked at least part of the time for this particular bird, as s/he got a few fish down. It required a lot of patience, however.

snowy egret IMG_3423© Maria de Bruyn res

At a certain point, the bird decided on a more active approach. S/he flew to another tidal pool and then began running to and fro in the water, flapping his/her wings open and closed.

snowy egret IMG_3575© Maria de Bruynsnowy egret IMG_3574© Maria de Bruyn

Occasionally, this was complemented by a leap into the air and plunge into the water – obviously behavior calculated to startle and scare up the fish lurking below the water’s surface.

snowy egret IMG_3606© Maria de Bruynsnowy egret IMG_3617© Maria de Bruyn

snowy egret IMG_3623© Maria de BruynThe tactic worked.

It was fascinating for me to see two such different bird species using their wings in a similar fashion as a hunting method. One of the things I love about wildlife watching -– you can always see and learn something new!

snowy egret IMG_3659© Maria de Bruyn

Sea-side supper (and breakfast and lunch)

Often when we visit the seashore, we either see the birds flying overhead or resting on the sand. But we also get to see them hunting for food, either through their own means or taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by others – be they other animals or human beings.

Crabs are a favorite food for various birds, including boat-tailed grackles (Quiscalus major) and sanderlings (Calidris alba).

boat-tailed grackle IMG_6386©Maria de Bruyn resSanderling IMG_5024© Maria de Bruyn resSanderling IMG_5025© Maria de Bruyn res

Grackles also snack on sea oats – including the adult males, adult females and juveniles.

Boat-tailed grackle IMG_1361©Maria de Bruyn resBoat-tailed grackle IMG_1400©Maria de Bruyn res

fish IMG_5688 (2)© Maria de Bruyn


One afternoon on Topsail Island, I came across a fish on shore that had been abandoned.

ring-billed gull IMG_5190© Maria de Bruyn

Just after passing it, I turned to see a ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis) fly in, obviously with the intention of making that fish its supper.

The gull was eating delicately, plucking bits of the fish off and eating at its leisure.

Unfortunately, the feast didn’t last long for the gull because a thief in the form of a large great black-backed gull (Larus marinus) swooped in. The ring-billed gull was not happy but couldn’t do much about it (click on the link to the video).

ring-billed gull IMG_5224© Maria de Bruyn resRing-billed gull IMG_5255© Maria de Bruyn

The people fishing from the shoreline frequently have a group of birds waiting nearby. This can definitely be to their benefit, as was the case for this juvenile great black-backed gull that was tossed a fish by a man wrapping up his activities for the day. He told me that he shared fish with the birds on a regular basis.

great black-backed gull IMG_4978© Maria de Bruyngreat black-backed gull IMG_4985© Maria de Bruyn res

Laughing gull  IMG_1150© Maria de BruynOther people also offer the seabirds food, but not always of the nutritious kind. Two days running, I saw Laughing gull  IMG_1194© Maria de Bruyn resa young man throwing orange-colored morsels into the air, which were snapped up eagerly by laughing gulls (Leucophaeus atricilla) and common terns (Sterna hirundo). Unfortunately, it appears that he was feeding them cheetohs or some kind of cracker with lots of food coloring. The birds seemed to be really anxious to snag a piece; obviously human beings aren’t the only species prone to eating junk food.



Other birds, like this laughing gull and snowy egret (Egretta thula) were more successful in finding their own food. And that is as it should be!

laughing gull IMG_5050©Maria de Bruynsnowy egret IMG_3329© Maria de Bruyn