This tiny solitary passerine is resident in small numbers in South East England with winter migrants found in the South West of England and South Wales.
Firecrests are our smallest visitor after the Goldcrest. Less numerous than the goldcrest they are however more striking in appearance and colour. The upper body of the adult firecrest is olive to bright green with white underparts and a yellow bronze shoulder patch encompassing the side of the neck. The wings are dark and marked with two white wing bars across the top side with white tips to the inner flight feathers. The most distinctive markings occur on the head of the bird. A black cap is split down the middle by a bright orange (paler yellow in the female) stripe running from just above the nape towards the beak where it stops within the area of the black cap. Between the front of the cap and the beak, there is a whitish patch that extends backwards above the eye. This in turn is terminated by a black stripe running from the base of the bill across the eye to an area just behind it.
Firecrests are sometimes referred to as belonging to the family known as ‘kinglets’ which relates to any of six species of songbirds of the genus Regulus, meaning ‘little king’ in Latin. Examples of a collective noun for a group of kinglets are a dynasty, castle, princedom, or court.
Their call is a sharp high pitched squeak, “zi-zi-zi-zi”, “zeep” or “ze-ze-zeep”.
Common Firecrest Song
Paul Donald, XC549494. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/549494.
Firecrest perched on a branch
Firecrests survive on a diet of insects, spiders and their eggs which they forage for in the upper surface of deciduous tree leaves and branches and also around conifers. They are not seed or nut eaters so are unlikely to be seen at garden bird tables or feeders.
Broadleaf trees in evergreen woods are a favourite haunt of these colourful little birds and they can often be heard in the topmost branches as they constantly flit around foraging amongst the foliage. During the breeding season you are most likely to come across them in the south east of the UK.
Close up of a Firecrest
Generally, if you spot a firecrest it is because you are actively seeking them out! Whilst they are relatively simple to identify and distinguish from their close family member, the slightly smaller goldcrest, they are far less common and tend to stick to their preferred habitat. In winter they often flock in company with tits. During the mating season, the male can sometimes be spotted calling from a tree branch displaying his colourful crest.
Cup-shaped nests are often suspended from conifer tree branches and are constructed in three layers of twigs, moss, spider webs, feathers and hair. Up to two broods may be produced between April to July, normally consisting of between 7 – 11 eggs, white in colour with a pinkish hue and brown spots. Only the female will incubate the clutch.
Firecrest about to take off
The average life expectancy of the firecrest is between two to three years.