The tiny Firecrest flits between branches in search of its next meal, flashing bright shades of yellow and a boldly striped face. These gorgeous birds are a scarce visitor and localised breeding species in England and Wales, but they are well worth looking for on your next birdwatching outing.
Firecrests are beautiful little birds that combine golden-green, fiery yellow, and contrasting black and white markings. Adults have a dumpy appearance, with a large head that merges directly into their bodies. They are named for the bright yellow and orange crown feathers that they can raise at will.
More visible than the colourful crown is the greenish-yellow back and sides of the neck and the boldly striped face. They have a thin, black bill that merges with a black stripe through each eye and a shorter black moustache stripe. A bold white stripe is visible above each eye, and a black ring surrounds their colourful crest.
A pair of white bars are visible on each wing in flight, and their tail is greyer than the rest of their upperparts. Their underparts are pale whitish, becoming warm buffy brown toward the throat, and their legs are a warm brownish or yellowish shade.
Female Firecrests are very similar to males but can be separated by their crest colour. They have yellow crowns, while males have an orange centre to their yellow crest feathers. Juveniles are duller than adults and lack colourful crests. They also have weakly striped faces, although a pale eyebrow and dark eyestripe may be visible.
These birds are most easily confused with the much commoner Goldcrest. While similar in size, the Goldcrest has a more compact appearance and lacks the contrasting facial stripes of the adult Firecrest.
Check out this handy guide for more information on identifying the two smallest birds in the United Kingdom.
Firecrest perched in the forest singing
Just slightly larger than the Goldcrest, the Firecrest is the second smallest bird in the United Kingdom. For perspective, these birds are about half the weight of the Eurasian Wren!
Adults measure just 9 centimetres from bill to tail-tip.
Weights range between about 4.6 and 6.5 grams. Females are slightly smaller than males.
These diminutive birds have a 13 to 16 centimetre wingspan.
Firecrest landing on a branch
Firecrests are vocal little birds with a simple high-pitched ‘sip seep seeep’ song that lasts a few seconds and increases in volume. It is similar but faster and less rhythmic than the call of the Goldcrest.
Firecrest in song
Firecrests are predators that hunt for small insects and other invertebrates. These busy little birds catch their prey on the leaves and branches of vegetation, sometimes hovering to snatch a meal.
Firecrest chicks eat small insects delivered by both parents. The young birds fledge the nest after three weeks but will continue to be fed for a further fortnight before gaining independence.
Firecrest feeding on prey
Firecrests are woodland and forest birds that inhabit coniferous, mixed, and deciduous habitats. They also visit hedges and trees in well-wooded gardens, although you’re unlikely to spot these insect-eaters at a bird feeder.
The Firecrest range centres around Europe, although they reach Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia in North Africa, and west to Turkey in the Middle East. They occur across most of Central, Southern, and Western Europe, reaching Wales and England in the United Kingdom.
Firecrests live among the foliage in trees and bushes where they restlessly search for food, even hanging upside down at times. They are elusive birds that keep to dense vegetation and rarely descend to the ground.
Firecrests are still pretty rare in the United Kingdom, with breeding records beginning as late as the 1960s. They appear to be increasing and expanding their range, although they are still very localised in the breeding season, with an estimated population of 2000 to 4000 pairs.
Firecrests are most widespread in the winter, particularly in coastal areas of England and Wales. The south of England holds the greatest numbers, particularly in Hampshire and Norfolk, while Gloucestershire and Southern Wales are also good areas to look for this sought-after species.
Firecrest searching for prey
Firecrests have been known to live for up to four years, although the average adult probably lives for just two years.
Firecrests are most vulnerable to the Sparrowhawk, a prolific predator of small woodland birds. However, they could fall prey to a variety of small birds of prey and mammals.
Firecrests in the United Kingdom are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
Although scarce in the UK, Firecrests are a green-list species. Elsewhere they are secure, with a stable population trend and a ‘Least Concern’ status on the IUCN Red List.
Firecrest resting on a grass stalk
Firecrests nest in deciduous trees, conifers, or ivy. The female builds a deep, three-layered cup lined with comfortable feathers, and her nest is suspended from a hanging branchlet, usually several meters (up to 20m) above the ground.
Firecrests nest in spring and summer, usually between the months of April and August. Incubation and chick-rearing take about five weeks, and two broods per season are the norm.
Firecrests lay clutches of six to thirteen pinkish eggs with light speckling. Their tiny eggs measure just 10 millimetres wide and 14 millimetres long.
Firescrests are monogamous during the nesting season. Whether these birds form long-lasting pair bonds is unclear, but with a typical lifespan of just two years, many individuals will have just one partner in their lifetime.
Firecrest perching in nesting habitat
Firecrests are generally migratory, although they are resident in some parts of their range. They relatively recently began nesting in the UK, although most of the winter population are visitors from continental Europe.
The Firecrest is a regular winter visitor, passage migrant, and summer breeder in the United Kingdom.
Family:Kinglets and firecrests
13cm to 16cm
5g to 7g
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