The Goldcrest is Europe’s smallest bird consisting of fourteen sub-species found from island groups in the NE Atlantic, through Europe, across southern Russia into China and beyond to Japan.
The adult male of the nominate species has predominantly olive green upperparts with buff tinged green underparts. The centre of the crown is a bright yellow, edged with a black line on either side, extending from the top of the crown to the base of the upper mandible. The feathers beneath the yellow crown at the back of the head are an orange hue which only becomes visible once the crest is erect. The area below the eye and on the chin is a pale creamy white. A thin black line extending from both sides of the bill bisects the aforementioned creamy white area to form a small moustache. There are two separate white upperwing bars and a black base to the secondary flight feathers running adjacent to the rearmost white upperwing bar, which is clearly visible during flight. The thin bill is a dark brown or black and the eyes are dark brown. Legs are also brown. The adult female is similar overall but does not have orange feathers below the yellow on the crown of the head. Juveniles are duller than the adult birds with a white eye ring and lack the brightly coloured yellow crown. Whilst generally similar overall, sub-species may have subtle differences in colouration and patternation.
Goldcrest from behind
The call is high pitched, penetrating and thin accompanied by a hissing sound similar to ‘see – see – see’. The song is generally loud, high pitched, rhythmic and fast ‘seedlyee – seedlyee – seedlyee’.
The goldcrest is so small and light that it averages the same weight as a US quarter, a Euro 20 cents coin or a British 20 pence piece!
Goldcrests eat mainly tiny insects, insect larvae and small spiders frequently foraged from tree bark and branches.
The nominate species, Regulus regulus is categorised as European with five subspecies and can be found, dependent upon subgroup, across Europe, Western and Central Siberia, Crimea, the Caucasus, Asia Minor, Iran and the border region between China and Kyrgyzstan. The Asia sub-species is divided into four subgroups individually located from east Afghanistan to the Himalayas, Nepal, South Eastern Siberia, North and Central China, Japan and Myanmar. Additionally, there are five other sub-species which are monotypic and cover islands in the Northeast Atlantic including Las Palmas, Tenerife, Eastern Azores, Santa Maria in the South Eastern Azores and the Western and Central Azores.
Close up of a Goldcrests face
Migrating south in the winter but also resident in many of its territories the goldcrest prefers mixed and coniferous woodland particularly where there are large mature trees or areas of dense undergrowth. Whilst they are normally solitary birds they also flock with other bird species. The yellow crown, edged in black, is a distinctive identifying feature especially when the crest is raised during the mating season. Look for them in urban areas as well, including parks and gardens.
Goldcrest on a tree branch
Small cup shaped nests are built by the male and female in late March, often located on twigs and small branches in coniferous trees. Between April and July two broods are produced with the first averaging 6 – 13 eggs and a smaller number in the second brood. The female incubates the eggs alone which hatch around fifteen days after laying.
Goldcrest with chick
Life expectancy for a goldcrest is two years.