Illustration by H. Douglas Pratt
A tiny, thin-billed, wing-flicking insectivore, it has a conspicuously striped head. Polytypic. Length 4" (10 cm).
Identification Adult male: dull grayish olive above, paler whitish below, head boldly marked with white supercilium, blackish lores and eye line. Yellow crown bordered broadly with black. Orange in center of yellow crown visible only during display, or when bird is agitated. Black at base of secondaries, contrasting with white wing bar. Adult female: similar to male, no orange in crown. Immature: somewhat pointier tail feathers than adult; a few males may lack orange in crown.
Geographic Variation Western subspecies (apache and olivaceus) slightly smaller, somewhat brighter, with longer white supercilium, longer bill.
Similar Species Ruby-crowned kinglet, readily distinguished by head pattern and call.
Voice Call: when flocking, a very high, sibilant jingling, tsii tsii tsii. Also, a quiet, high single note, tsit, and a thin sibilant seee similar to call of the brown creeper. Song: an extended version of the call, becoming louder and chattering toward the end; tsii tsii tsii tsii tiii djit djit djit djit.
Status and Distribution Common. Breeding: mainly boreal forests, a few in mixed or deciduous forests and conifer plantations. Also breeds in central Mexico and Guatemala. Nest: upper crown of conifer near trunk, 8–9 eggs (May–June). Spring migration: spring and fall migration difficult to detect in some areas with resident populations. Winter residents depart Gulf States before April. Peaks across continent late March–late April. Fall migration: begins mid-September over much of range, peaking in East in October and early November. Winter: many remain in breeding range through winter. Primarily south of Canada and north of Mexico in a wide variety of habitats. Numbers in southern California and the Southwest vary from year to year.
Population Breeding range increasing in the East and the Midwest due to plantings of spruce and pine. Adversely affected by logging.
—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006
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