The Golden-crowned Kinglet is, next to the Humming-bird, almost our smallest bird, and it frequents thick evergreens so continually that it is rarely seen. There is little in its voice and habits to attract attention, and its activity and restlessness are so constant that we rarely catch sight of the bit of color which it possesses,—the crown which the little king carries. But if we train our ear so that it catches every fine natural sound, no matter how trifling, we become aware some crisp winter day of a thin see, see, see, often repeated from some hedge, or group of orchard trees. If we watch, our eye will catch sight of one or two tiny creatures, flitting restlessly among the twigs, keeping their wings in almost constant motion, even when not actually flying. The general color of the bird is a shade known in the books as olivaceous, but the effect outdoors and at a distance is a dark gray; across the wings there are little whitish bars, and over the head dark lines enclose the little crown,—yellow in the female, orange in the male.
If we succeed in attracting the Chickadees to our trees, by tying up bones, the Kinglets often come in their company, but their little bills are too weak to pick at the frozen gristle, and they merely glean from the twigs and buds. The little scale insects, the eggs of moths and spiders, all manner of minute objects, are detected by their sharp eyes and seized by their skillful little bills and tongues. At night, the band retires to some thick evergreen hedge or grove, ready the next morning to resume their busy rounds. In April, the male is moved to utter a simple little song, and by the end of the month the whole company moves to the spruce forests of the North, not to return to us until the next September.
In the Northern States, the Golden-crowned Kinglet is the only species that remains all winter, but from Virginia southward its cousin, the Ruby-crowned Kinglet, is associated with it; in summer, strange to say, the more Southern winter species goes farther North than the Golden-crowned, breeding from northern Maine to the frigid zone. A few years ago, no eggs or nest of either Kinglet had been described, but when they were at last discovered, they proved as dainty as the little builders themselves. The nest is globular, with an entrance in the upper part; it is placed in a thick mass of spruce twigs and composed of hanging moss, ornamented with bits of dead leaves, and lined chiefly with feathers. In such a nest, as many as nine eggs are often laid; imagine the little Golden-crown brooding in this bower.
Like some of the Warbler family, the Kinglet does not let an insect escape, though it should take wing before it could be seized. The bird, too, has wings, and darts out after its prey. In winter, it often hovers under the piazza roofs, or the lintels of the barn door, and while in the air, picks off the eggs or chrysalides that have been hidden in the crevices. Occasionally one of the birds, in its eagerness to seize some attractive morsel, flies sharply against a windowpane. No doubt it is the part of a thrifty householder to sweep out the insects from his piazza roof, but there are some, like Lowell, wise enough to leave a few decayed limbs on their apple trees for the Woodpeckers, a patch or so of weeds for the Snowbirds, and a chrysalis or two for the hungry Kinglets in winter.