The Goldcrest (Cíorbhuí)
The Goldcrest is Ireland’s and Europe’s smallest bird, less than 10 cm. long and weighs about 5 grams. Most people think the smallest bird is the wren, as you will see it more often, but it is not, it’s the goldcrest.
Goldcrests are all-year visitors to our garden. In early April their song can be a regular feature. But often the songsters can be difficult to locate as they flit restlessly in the foliage of a windbreak of lofty cypresses.
The song is high-pitched, so high that the frequency may be above that perceivable by the ageing human eardrum. This fact creates problems in plotting the distribution of a species otherwise rather inconspicuous in the very tops of lofty conifers and where recognition by song is most useful.
A pair of goldcrests has spent much time in a towering Norwegian spruce close to the house windows. We have enjoyed watching them hanging upside down before flitting from spray to spray, each craning its neck and carefully examining every needle, but spending only a moment at each.
In close view and against a dark background we can appreciate the great attraction of this smallest of European birds. Moss green above and creamy-white below, the plumage is set-off by two features: a double whitish wing-bar and the crest. In both sexes the crests takes the form of a ‘parting’ down the centre of the crown. Displaying to the hen, the flame and gold crest features of the male are fully exposed. At the same time wings are drooped and body plumage puffed-out.
Nesting commences in late April. If we are fortunate the intricate hammock-like structure will be visible to us. This wonderfully complex structure may take almost a fortnight to complete.
For a bird that rarely seems to fly any distance when under observation, and for its size, the goldcrest migrations are very impressive. In the autumn of 1993 the arrival of these ‘woodcock pilots’ along the north Norfolk coast was on a massive scale. Many hundreds arrived especially during mid-October.
One tiny traveller was so hungry it engaged a large dragonfly in the air. It was then towed by the insect before releasing it undamaged!
Common widespread resident and passage migrant.
Shows a strong preference for conifers. Found in conifer and mixed woods and gardens with conifers. Outside breeding season, also found more in deciduous trees.
Smallest bird of the region (with same sized Firecrest). The orange (male) or yellow (female) crown stripes are not always easy to see. Very active and tit-like. High, thin song and calls’. 9cm (3.5″)
Firecrest. The Firecrest (R. ignicapillus) is the same size as the Goldcrest, but more brightly coloured: starkly contrasting white supercilium above black eyestripe, yellow-orange stripe on crown which is bordered by black stripes. Upperparts are lime-green, and shoulders are bronze coloured. The Firecrest has grey ear coverts making the eye indistinct. Usually feeds at the ends of branches, fluttering almost hummingbird-like.