Along with the firecrest, the goldcrest is Britain’s smallest bird. Sometimes called the king of birds, it has little fear of humans, and can easily be observed as it forages in the undergrowth or hangs upside down from a branch to get at insects. It is a restless bird, and rarely stays still with a distinctive sweet-sounding song that is so high pitched that some people are unable to hear it.
Breeding pairs: 610,000 pairs
Wintering birds: 3-5 million
Adult male goldcrests have olive green upperparts with dark flight feathers edged with white that form a ‘V’ shape on the back, and two white wingbars. The underparts are buffy white.
On the head, the crown has an orange stripe bordered with black, the forehead is brown, while the rest of the face is olive-grey, except for short pale feathers which surround the eye. The thin, pointed bill is black with a small dark stripe to the side, the eyes are dark brown, and the legs and feet are pinkish-brown.
Males and females are similar but the crown is more yellow on the female.
Juvenile goldcrests resemble adults but don’t have the markings on the head until the first autumn.
Goldcrests breed between late April and June and produce 2 broods a season. They are monogamous and breed in coniferous forests, parks, and gardens.
Both male and female build the nest which is a complex cup-shaped structure suspended from the end of a branch and built in three layers. The outer layer is made from moss, twigs, and lichen, with cobwebs used to attach the nest to the branch. The middle layer is made from moss, and the inner layer is a lining made from feathers and hair.
Goldcrests lay 9-12 smooth white or buff eggs with brown speckles which are incubated by the female for 15-19 days. Both parents feed the chicks which fledge at 16-21 days. They rely on their parents for a further 14 days and reach sexual maturity at 1 year.
Goldcrests eat mainly insects and spiders from trees although in winter they will also eat seeds on the ground. They will visit gardens in search of food, in particular peanuts, and sunflower and niger seed.
Goldcrests can be seen all year round in the UK. They are found primarily in coniferous woodland but will also visit parks and gardens. In winter they will often join other flocks of small birds and are joined in large numbers by birds from Scandinavia.
Goldcrests used to be known as woodcock pilots. People thought it was impossible for them to fly across the North Sea from Scandinavia, so imagined that they hitched a ride on the back of woodcocks, which migrate at the same time.
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